Cape Ann Light Station Thacher Island

A National Historic Landmark

A black and white photo of three lighthouses.
Thacher Island viewed from eastern shore
Thacher Island at sunset  [photo: Gail Zeman]
Thacher Island at sunset [photo: Gail Zeman]

Climbing Thacher Island Twin Lights

The Thacher Island Twin Lights were the 11th and final lighthouses built by the British of Massachusetts Bay in 1771. They were the first lighthouses built to mark a dangerous spot – the “Londoner” reef, named because of the reef just below the surface which had claimed hundreds of vessels, most bound from London to Boston, in the early 1700s.

The current identical towers, the only operating twin lighthouses in America, were completed in 1861. They are 124 feet high, with 156 steps to the top, and stand about 164 feet above the waterline. From the tower, the skyline of Boston is visible to the south and the mountains of Maine are visible to the northwest. The original first-order Fresnel lens, installed in 1861 in the South Tower, is on display at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester MA.

Brief History of Thacher Island

Thacher Island was sighted by Samuel de Champlain in 1605, by Captain John Smith in 1614, and likely many others before them. But it got its name 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 23 passengers and crew, only Anthony Thacher and his wife, Elizabeth (Jones) Thacher, survived, watching helplessly as their children and friends were swept away.

On September 3, 1635, the General Court awarded Thacher 40 marks, and the following year voted to grant Thacher the Island "at the head of Cape Ann, as his inheritance." Over the next 135 years, it changed hands numerous times, and in 1771, the Colonial Government bought it back for 500 pounds. That year, the twin lighthouses were erected and lighted for the first time on December 21st.

A black and white photo of the lighthouse.

The current 123-foot granite towers were completed in 1861, raising the lights to 164 feet above sea level. In 1888 the Town of Rockport adopted the Seal of the Island as its official seal.
Early in the 1900s, four families lived on the Island to run the lighthouses and fog whistles. The North Light was shut off in 1932 as an economy measure and the U.S. Coast Guard, which had manned the Island for many years, removed its last crew of four men in 1980. By then, 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.

Thacher Island Association was formed in 1983 as a nonprofit organization to support and encourage historic preservation and restoration of the structures on the Island. Major restoration work was completed in 1988 on the once abandoned North Tower, and 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 2001, the entire Island and its structures were designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. This designation officially recognizes Cape Ann Light Station’s significant impact in our nation’s maritime history.

The southern 28 acres of the Island and its structures were deeded over to the Town of Rockport by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2002. The north end of the island and the North Tower is owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and managed by the Town on their behalf as a wildlife refuge.

Two lighthouses are shown on a blue background.

Over the following years, total restoration of the primary and assistant Keeper Houses by the South Tower allowed the Association to maintain volunteer keepers on the Island during the summer months. Keepers land boats on the island, assist visitors, and provide the daily upkeep needed to keep the Island open to the public.

Learn how you can visit Thacher Island. Click on Visit Us.

Camping on Thacher Island - Opens June 2024

The Thacher Island campground will be open from June through August of 2024. Please note that there are no camping facilities on Straitsmouth Island.

Thacher Island camping is very basic: campers must bring their own water, no open fires are allowed, and there is no electricity. The site has an environmentally-friendly solar-powered composting toilet and picnic tables, as well as a large covered pavilion to provide campers with sun and rain protection. No pets are allowed. There is a fee of $5/day per camper and reservations can be made during the summer by calling the Thacher Island Keeper at 508-284-0144.

Campground Pavilion  [photo: George Langer]
Campground Pavilion [photo: George Langer]
Campground & Privy  [photo: Darlene Fulton]
Campground & Privy [photo: Darlene Fulton]
A small house with a wooden door and a ramp.

Walking the Island

Thacher Island Historic Video

Thacher Island Map 2023
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