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Highland (Cape Cod) Lighthouse

Highland (Cape Cod) lighthouse

27 Highland Light Rd, North Truro, Massachusetts
Built in 1797



On the eastern side of Cape Cod, just north of Truro, off South Highland Road from Route 6. The Highland House Museum is also on the premises, and you can take a tour into the lighthouse tower.

Latitude: 42° 02' 21" N
Longitude: 70° 03' 44" W


Historic Stories:

Highland Light was built in 1797 about 500 feet from the edge of a 160 foot bluff, about a mile from where many ships previously were wrecked on an area called Peaked Hill Bars. The original tower contained 24 whale-oil lamps. Not to be confused with Boston Light, it became the first lighthouse in the nation to have a flashing light. The light was somewhat erratic in its timing and was replaced in 1812 with a new system of 15 lamps and reflectors.

Wreck of the Josephus

The worst wreck recorded near Highland Light occurred in 1849, when the British vessel, Josephus sank in a violent storm, 14 crew members perished, and two local men perished in efforts to rescue the crew of the wreck. Keeper Hamilton and a companion found two men washed ashore from the wreck barely alive and helped them regain their strength at the lighthouse. One of the crew members, John Jasper, became a captain of an ocean liner and would always dip the flag as a signal of respect every time he passed he lighthouse.

For more details about either this historic event, or of the story of the strange collision between the two largest sailing ships mentioned below, select the appropriate link at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories Blog.


A high volume of vessels would pass by the lighthouse, which needed to be logged in daily, as one of the many duties of a lighthouse Keeper. Keeper Hamilton counted over 1,200 vessels passing his station during an 11-day period in 1853. To accommodate the high volume of traffic, by 1857, a first order Fresnel lens was installed, the strongest and most powerful type of lens. The lens stood 12 feet high, had a diameter of 9 feet, weighed 2000 pounds, and floated on a bed of mercury. One oil lamp burning inside this huge crystal could reach the horizon, 25 miles away. An even larger lens was installed in 1901.  

Bizarre Collision of the Two Largest Sailing Ships

One of the most bizarre collisions occured a few miles from the lighthouse on June 29, 1901. On a clear, moonstruck night, the six-masted George W. Wells collided with the only other six-masted ship, the Eleanor A. Percy. They were the largest sailing vessels in the world at the time. The George W. Wells was sailing light without cargo and had rounded Provincetown on Cape Cod. She was heading south to Newport News, Virginia, for a load of coal. Under full sail, the Eleanor A. Percy was heading northward with 5,400 tons of coal for delivery to Boston and was traveling at a good clip. 

For some reason, the lookout of the Eleanor A. Percy didn't observe the other six-master until it was too late as she crashed into the ship's side. The force of the impact had thrusted her 8,000-pound anchor across her bow into the George W. Wells, making a large gaping hole. After calming the confusion on both ships and assessing the damage, both captains believed neither vessel was in danger of sinking, so they spent the night clearing the wreckage and prepared to head back to Boston Harbor. No one was injured, and both vessels were later towed to Bath, Maine for extensive repairs. The owners of the Eleanor A. Percy were found at fault and paid for all damages, as it was believed the lookout on duty had misjudged or miscalculated the distance and speed of approach between the two ships.

sunset by cape cod light When Highland Light was converted to electricity in 1932, it became known as one of the brightest lights in America, reportedly visible for 75 miles in clear weather.

In the early 1900’s, the Navy at the lighthouse site conducted experiments with wireless communications and radio beacons. In 1976, the name of the lighthouse was switched from Highland Light to the current name of Cape Cod Light, although many still refer to it as Highland Light.

In 1797 Highland Light was built 510 feet from the edge of the Truro Bluffs at about 160 feet above the sea. One hundred years later, the lighthouse stood about 300 feet away from the edge.

In 1990, Cape Cod Light was less than 125 feet from toppling over the edge of the bluff. Over 40 feet were lost to one winter storm alone in 1990. cape cod light before move

Cape Cod lighthouse
before move from the cliffs

The severity of erosion of the bluff forced a plan to move the lighthouse. The 400-ton Cape Cod Light was successfully moved on steel tracks lubricated with Ivory soap during the summer of 1996 about 450 feet back from its original location.

Highland lighthouse after move

Highland (Cape Cod) Lighthouse After Move



Places to Visit Nearby:

Truro is a small town summer vacation community near the end of Cape Cod with bike paths, nature trails, and ten public beaches.

The grounds of Cape Cod Lighthouse are open year round, and occasional tours in the lighthouse are offered during the summer months. cape cod light open for tours

The lighthouse also is part of the Highland House Museum for visitors to enjoy.

In North Truro visitors can enjoy the Payomet Performing Arts in music, theater, film, and a kids summer stage events. Classes are taken in all kinds of performing arts here.

The Cape Cod National Seashore provides plenty of hiking and biking trails with almost 30 miles of beach areas, which are protected. beach below huge cliffs on cape cod seashore

Guided tours are also provided with Rangers during the summer season.

In Truro, visitors can stop and enjoy wine tasting at the Truro Vineyards. The Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has over 750 acres of marshes, coastal dunes, and a cedar swamp filled with nature trails. There are nature tours and exhibits available for visitors year-round.

Just a short drive away, you’ll find the city of Provincetown with its galleries, museums, outdoor activities and nightlife.




Contact Info:
Highland Museum and Lighthouse
P.O. Box 699
North Truro, MA 02652
Phone: (508) 487-1121


Books to Explore

Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Providing special stories from each of the 92 lighthouses along the south New England coastline, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions and tours you can explore.

In the book you'll find local stories from all lighthouses in the Cape Cod region. At Cape Cod Lighthouse, you'll find a story about a "double miracle" at the cost of the lives of two local rescuers.

Look inside!

book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England



book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

To order a signed paperback copy:

Available in paperback, hardcover, and as an eBook for all devices.

my ebook on apple books

The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships:
Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted Coal Schooners of New England

In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants of sail were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies, and measured longer than a football field!

This self-published book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships, including their final voyages.

In fact, the first two six-masted ships built collided off Highland Light on a clear night, very bazarre!




New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales

This image-rich book contains over 50 stories of famous shipwrecks and rescues around New England lighthouses, and also tales of hauntings.

You'll find more details and imagery in the story of the wreck of the Josephus near Highland Light.

You'll find this book and my lighthouse tourism books from the publisher Schiffer Books, or in many fine bookstores like Barnes and Noble.



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