The move took 18 days, from July 11 to 29, 1996. The $1.55 million cost was paid by a four-way partnership, with $500,000 coming from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; $450,000 each from the Coast Guard and the National Park Service; and $150,000 from the Truro Historical Society.
While Nauset was technically an easier move, there was far less room at the site for equipment. At Nauset, the International Chimney crew began the process by cutting a hole in the floor of the lighthouse, taking out a square plug of concrete, and digging below the foundation by hand with shovels, Dumont says. Simultaneously, the outside of the foundation was being excavated using a “mini”-excavator. “Vibration is not good in any circumstances,” Dumont says, “but it was very important here because of the proximity to the cliff.”
Next, crews passed steel beams from outside the structure through the center and out the opposite side, creating a grid of steel beams. Jacks were put in place and everything was connected through hydraulic lines. Then the system was pressurized to lift the 90-ton lighthouse evenly. “You have to lift it high enough to place dollies under the main beams,” Dumont says. In this case, the lighthouse was raised about six feet.
Working with Expert House Movers of Sharptown, Maryland, the International Chimney crew set the lighthouse on dollies with rubber tires, which ferried the structure slowly to its new home. The actual move took two days in November, which Dumont remembers as so cold that even the hydraulic fuel was a little sluggish. Not much would change, though, if they had to do it again today, she says. “Even with the advances in technology, you still couldn’t use heavy equipment on a lighthouse that close to the cliff.”
Hawkins Conrad of Eastham, who was involved in the earliest efforts to save the light and served as president of the Nauset Light Preservation Society, recalls the excitement—and trepidation—on day one of the move. “When they first began to move the structure,” he says, “the initial tug made the whole lighthouse rock back and forth a little bit, and we all went ‘Oooh!’” Conrad still marvels at how close the light came to falling into the sea. “We got out by the skin of our teeth.”
The $300,000 cost of moving Nauset Light was covered by donations and a federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) grant.
Ownership of both lights passed from the U.S. Coast Guard to the National Park Service, which established agreements with private nonprofit groups to maintain the lights. Eastern National, a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, operates the Highland Light Museum Store in the keeper’s house and offers guided tours of the lighthouse, including a climb to the top, during the summer, Monday through Saturday (highlandlighthouse.org). The Truro Historical Society operates the adjacent Highland House Museum, which will mount a special exhibition this summer focused on Highland Light and the move (trurohistoricalsociety.org/highlandhouse). The Nauset Light Preservation Society maintains and operates Nauset Light. Volunteers conduct tours to the top of the tower on Sundays from May through late October, with additional tours on Wednesdays in July and August (nausetlight.org).
Ellen Albanese is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Waquoit.
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