The ever-shifting battalion of sandbars, or shoals, lurking beneath the waters that surround Nantucket have caused between 700 and 800 shipwrecks in recorded history. All three of Nantucket’s lighthouses were originally built as navigational tools, but today, modern technology has rendered the island’s most iconic lighthouse useful only for our viewing pleasure.
For those who arrive on Nantucket via ferry, the lighthouse on Brant Point (officially named Brant Point Light) is the little wooden welcome that ushers folks to the island. First erected in 1746, the Brant Point Light is America’s second oldest lighthouse. (Some rumors claim a bonfire existed there as early as 1700.) The Brant Point Light is only 26 feet tall, making it the shortest lighthouse in all of New England! Small but mighty, its red light flashes every four seconds, and is visible ten miles out.
In 1987, Brant Point Light became a part of The National Register of Historic Places, placing itself in good company with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave, the Wright Flyer III (the third plane of the Wright brothers), and thousands of other sites of significance. But life hasn’t always been rosy for this brave little beacon; the current structure is actually the 10th one that has sat at the location. As one might imagine, some were torn down by ferocious Nor’easters. Others were simply built cheaply. Two of them actually burned down; and still others rotted and were condemned. The existing structure has lasted for over 110 years and is emblematic above all; visitors toss a penny into the sea as they round the point leaving the harbor to ensure that they return someday to the Grey Lady’s welcoming arms.