102 feet above the Plymouth Sea lies the famous Gurnet Light, a historic lighthouse that has stood on Gurnet Point since 1768. Through the years, this wooden beacon has stood the test of time through natural disasters, fires, and even war.
In this article, we look at the exciting history of Gurnet Light and turn towards what the future might hold for the oldest operating wooden lighthouse in the United States.
History of Gurnet Light
In 1768, Plymouth Lighthouse was constructed on the property of John and Hannah Thomas. The lighthouse was built with two lights, making it the first of its kind in the US.
John Thomas operated the lighthouse until 1776, when he left to fight in the Revolutionary War. At that point, the lighthouse operation was turned over to Hannah Thomas, making her the first known light housekeeper in the US. During the war, Gurnet Light was allegedly struck by the British Frigate Niger.
In 1790, the lighthouse was turned over to the federal government then appointed John Thomas, Jr. as its keeper, thus beginning a long series of events in its storied history:
- In 1801, Gurnet Light burnt down but was reconstructed with two towers
- In 1842, the lighthouse was crumbling. Therefore, the towers were rebuilt as twin octagonal white towers, one of which can still be seen today.
- In 1914, The Cape Cod Canal opened, making Gurnet Light a vital beacon for navigation.
- In 1924, one of the twin lights was phased out, ultimately leading to it falling into disrepair.
- In 1977, the lighthouse was given the honor of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- In 1998, Gurnet Light was moved back 140 feet from an eroding cliff to prevent it from falling into the ocean.
- In 1999, the non-profit Project Gurnet & Bug Lights was given the first of many licenses to preserve, restore, and maintain the lighthouse.
While Project Gurnet & Bug Lights maintains the license to maintain the lighthouse, the Coast Guard still owns the 7.8-acre property that the building is on.
Gurnet Light to Change Ownership
In 2023, a new challenge for the historic lighthouse arose. The government declared the Gurnet Lighthouse as excess property. This allows certain entities to compete for the right to own the property that Gurnet Light is on. Luckily, the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 gave non-profits the right to compete for former federal properties.
Therefore, Project Gurnet & Bug Lights will have the opportunity to compete against other government agencies, state and local governments, education entities, and other non-profits for the ownership of the 7.8-acre lot that the lighthouse sits on.
Whoever wins the right to ownership of the land must be willing to maintain and preserve the lighthouse while making it available for educational, recreational, or cultural purposes.
While a change in ownership may seem like a shock, it is actually a good thing. Whatever organization is given ownership of Gurnet Light and the land it sits on will have the ability to protect it from further erosion. It will also give them an opportunity to apply for grant funding to get additional funds to preserve the historic building further.
Can I Visit Gurnet Light?
The lighthouse is not currently open to the public. However, it is sometimes open on special occasions. The passing over of ownership may mean that the lighthouse is open with more regularity.
Visit Other Lighthouses on Cape Cod
While Gurnet Light is one of the more interesting lighthouses in Plymouth, it is not the only one!
If you’d prefer to go to a lighthouse that you can go into or one that is closer to your location, check out our post on the 27 Lighthouses on Cap Cod. You Won’t Want to Miss!