Bit of History
Thacher Island was sighted by Champlain in 1605, by Captain John Smith
in 1614, and by how many more before that, nobody knows.
The name comes from a shipwreck described as "pathetic" by
historians. A small boat out of Ipswich , bound for Marblehead , was
caught in the Great Storm of August, 1635, and was dashed to pieces
on the rocks of the Island . Of the twenty-three passengers and crew,
only Anthony Thacher and his wife survived, watching helplessly as their
children and friends were swept away.
On September 3, 1635 , the General Court voted Thacher 40 Marks. Also,
in 1636-37, the General Court voted to grant Thacher the Island "at
the head of Cape Ann , as his inheritance."
In 1717, the Island was sold by John Appleton (an heir of Thacher ),
of Ipswich , to the Reverend John White - 30 acres, more or less, for
In 1726-27 the Reverend John White sold to Joseph Allen for 175 pounds.
This was Joseph Allen, Jr. who owned it at his death in 1750.
In 1771, the Colonial Government bought it back for 500 pounds. The
same year, the twin lighthouses were erected and lighted for the first
time on December Twenty-first.
The present 123-foot granite towers were completed in 1861 raising the
lights to 166 feet above sea level. In 1888 the Town of Rockport adopted
the Seal of the Island as its official seal.
Early in this
century, four families lived on the Island , to run the lighthouses
and fog whistles. Descendants of these families still live in Rockport.
The north light was shut off in 1932, as an economy measure. The Coast
Guard, which had manned the Island for many years, removed its last
crew of four men in 1980. At that time, the south light and the fog
whistle had become automated, and the Town of Rockport took over the
Island by lease from the U. S. Coast Guard.
In 1983, the Thacher Island Association was formed as a non-profit
organization to support and encourage historic preservation and restoration
of the structures on the Island . The Association financed the design
and construction of a custom made aluminum launch, a mini landing
craft, to provide access to the Island .
Major restoration work was completed in 1988 on the once abandoned
North Tower it was relit and approved as a private aid to navigation.
A 15 watt fluorescent lamp replicates the amber light of the original
oil lamp and can be seen for almost eight miles.
In the summer of 1998 the Coast Guard installed a solar panel to power
the south tower and fog horn.
The entire Island and its structures were designated as a National
Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. This designation in
January of 2001 officially recognizes Cape Ann Light Stations
significant impact in our nations maritime history.
A total restoration of the brick two story duplex Assistant
keepers quarters and a guest apartment on the Island took place during
the summer of 2002 allowing the Town to begin renting the guest apartment
and providing an income stream to be used for further restoration.
The Association maintains volunteer keepers on the Island during the
summer months to assist and inform visitors, and to provide the daily
upkeep needed for a ship-shape facility.
Also in 2002 the southern 28 acres of the Island and its structures
were deeded over to the Town of Rockport by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The north end and tower is owned by the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service
and managed by the Town on their behalf as a wildlife refuge.
Future plans include restoration of the island and its structures
to their original 1800s condition and keep it open to the public
as a historic and educational facility.