Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-01-08.
Hyannis, Massachusetts is one of the many villages that make up the Town of Barnstable on Cape Cod, and due to its location and plentiful harbor, many call it the "Capital of the Cape." The name dates back to 1621 and a Native American sachem named Iyanough, a high chief of the Nauset Nation's Cummaquid Tribe.
By the early 1800s, Hyannis was a bustling fishing and trading port, and by 1840, more than 200 shipmasters had called Hyannis and nearby Hyannisport home. To mark the entrance to the port, the Point Gammon Lighthouse was established on the southern tip of Great Island in 1816. This light marked the outer harbor well, but did little to guide vessels into the inner harbor.
Through an Act dated March 2, 1827, Congress appropriated $10,650 for improving Hyannis Harbor. Over the next ten years, an additional $51,517.02 was spent to complete a breakwater. To help mark the harbor, a local named Daniel Snow Hallett provided a light from a window in the loft of a privately built shack known as "The Bug."
To limit his out-of-pocket expenditures for maintaining the light, Daniel Snow Hallett would often sell printed directions to safely sail into Hyannis Harbor. The elder Hallett was frequently assisted by his son, Daniel Bunker Hallett, who would walk to the lighthouse after school with his dog Pilot. The boy would stay until morning, extinguish the light, then return home to get breakfast before heading off to school.
Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse with bird-cage lantern.
It would take several years before Congress authorized a lighthouse at Hyannis Harbor. An Act dated August 15, 1848 appropriated $2,000 for the tower's construction. Government documents hint at difficulty of finding a parcel:
For a light-house at Hyannis, $2,000. With much difficulty a small piece of land was purchased, a small tower erected and fitted up with lamps and reflectors, for the sum appropriated. A man has been employed to attend it, who has a house of his own in the neighborhood, at the rate of fifteen dollars per month.
The conical brick tower measured only 19 feet to the base of the lantern, and was topped off with a "bird-cage" style lantern room. Inside the lantern were five oil lamps and reflectors, which the keeper put into service on May 7, 1849. It displayed a fixed white light with a red sector that warned vessels away from the dangerous Southwest Shoal.
The first keeper, Daniel Snow Hallett was employed at a salary of fifteen dollars per month, and lived in a house of his own in the neighborhood as no living quarters were provided. That would change a little over a year later when an Act of September 28, 1850 appropriated $800 for a wooden keeper's dwelling. The dwelling, when constructed, would be attached to the tower via a covered walkway.
Like most lighthouses in the 1850s, the Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse was upgraded to a more efficient fifth-order Fresnel in 1856. Due to the small stature of the bird-cage style lantern, it was removed in 1863, and replaced with a larger cast-iron lantern.
Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse with cast-iron lantern.
The Cape Cod Railroad Company, which was later merged with and became the Old Colony Railroad in 1872, was extended out to Hyannis on July 8, 1854. This lead to the growth of the port at Hyannis as it became the last and first stop for passenger and freight traffic heading to and arriving from the island of Nantucket.
Nearly thirty years later, the keeper's dwelling was showing its age. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1881 and 1882 had the following entries stating that repairs were made to the dwelling:
108. Hyannis, east side of entrance to Hyannis Harbor, Massachusetts - The dwelling-house was reshingled and refloored from gallery to tower, and general repairs were made during the year.
109. Hyannis, on east side of Hyannis, Harbor, Massachusetts - The interior of the light-tower was repaired with new wooden floor and ceiling; the exterior walls of the dwelling were repainted, two coats, white. The interior of the cistern was cemented, the arch top and curb renewed, and 50 feet of drain pipe laid.
To further increase navigation into the harbor, the Lighthouse Board added a front range lighthouse on the Old Colony Railroad Wharf in 1885. This light, when coupled with the Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse acting as the rear range, would let mariners know they were on the correct path into the harbor. A mariner would line up the two lights until the appeared one atop another.
1885 Front Range Lighthouse.
The front range light, established for $350, was nothing more than a simple lamp perched atop a 20-foot wooden tower. As the tower stood along the Old Colony Railroad wharf, the light was frequently blocked with rail cars. The keeper of the Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse, who was responsible for maintaining the front range light, would have to argue with railroad personnel until they were moved.
Due to the front range beacon's location on the wharf, it was frequently swamped by storms. Less than a year later, the tower required so much work that it was nearly rebuilt in its entirety. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1886 had the following entry:
110. Hyannis range beacon, Hyannis Harbor, Massachusetts - This beacon, in which the light was frequently extinguished by storms, was almost entirely rebuilt, was supplied with a new lamp, and is in excellent order.
Several years later, the keeper's dwelling was upgraded. Added was a summer kitchen, as well as a few other items. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1889 had the following entry:
115. Hyannis, entrance to the harbor, Massachusetts - A summer kitchen and fuel-house were added to the dwelling, and quite extensive repairs were made to the barn, covered way, and fence.
By the late 1890s, the State of Massachusetts was looking to open up Lewis Bay and the inner harbor. To start, they dredged a shipping channel through Lewis Bay, as it was previously only open to shallow-drafted vessels. When this project was completed in 1929, it redirected all harbor traffic to the inner harbor, which made the need for the Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse obsolete.
A steel skeletal tower was established at the end of the breakwater to mark the outer harbor. At that time, the lantern was removed from the Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse, and both the keeper's dwelling and lanternless-tower were sold at a government auction.
A.W. Fuller purchased the property for $7,007 at the 1929 auction and subsequently sold it to Annie V. Stevenson. Over the years, it has been bought and sold numerous times. With each new owner came changes, including a large addition in 1938.
The current owners, Janice Hyland and Alan Granby, the owners of Hyland Granby Antiques purchased the location in 1985. The new owners gutted the interior which included pulling down plaster, replacing rotten wood, pulling up carpeting, and remodeling the kitchen. Many items needed replacing such as the electrical and heating systems.
The couple then added a 30 by 32 foot addition which provided plenty of space to showcase their antiques. A guesthouse was erected after tearing down a dilapidated garage that was on the property.
Restoration of the tower started with the removal of nearly thirty coats of paint which were sandblasted away. Once down to bare brick, the tower was repainted. Although the lantern installed on the tower is non-traditional, it makes a great place to view the sunsets over Nantucket Sound.
Directions: The lighthouse is private property, and is not visible from the street. The best viewing location is from a small park on Ocean Ave. just to the west of the lighthouse. From here, you can park in the parking lot, and then walk the beach to get a pretty good view of the lighthouse.
Access: Janice Hyland and Alan Granby, the owners of Hyland Granby Antiques. The lighthouse is private property. The tower and grounds are closed.View more Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse pictures