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The Changing Shape of Siasconset, Nantucket

Editor’s note: This is the 6th in a series of articles covering the region’s dramatically changing coastline. Click here to see all of the articles.

Photography by Jen Dow

Photography by Jen Dow

The village of Siasconset sits on the east coast of Nantucket. A distance from downtown, the area offers stunning scenery and a unique culture and history. Due to its location, though, Siasconset (or “Sconset”) also regularly feels the wrath of the Atlantic’s rough waters beating along its shoreline. Sankaty Head Lighthouse, perhaps the village’s best known attraction—it’s a white light with one red stripe—has felt these affects over the years as the light, of course, overlooks the coast.

When the lighthouse was built in 1849, a distance of 280 feet stood between the light and the edge of the bluff. As a result of water, wind, and time, by 2007 that distance had dwindled to a mere 76 feet.

That year, in an effort to save Sankaty Light, The ‘Sconset Trust, a non-profit organization focused on land and historic preservation in the region, purchased the lighthouse from the United States Coast Guard, then raised about $4.5 million to move it from harm’s way. In October of 2007, the light was moved 400 feet back from the eroding bluff, and today, it stands near the fifth hole of the Sankaty Head Golf Club. A marker at the spot where the light once stood reveals the direness of the area’s erosion problem: today, that marker is just over 50 feet from the bluff’s edge.

Robert Felch, who served as ‘Sconset Trust’s executive director for six years before he retired in July, has witnessed the erosion firsthand. “The recent developments go back to significant storms like Hurricane Bob in [August of] 1991,” Felch says. “It went right over Sconset. Then, the Perfect Storm [in October of 1991] came a few months after and stuck around for three or four days. Those two storms, in less than three months’ time, caused an estimated 18 to 22 feet of the bluff to be lost.” Since then, Felch says the bluff has lost an average of three feet per year, and recent years have been even more devastating. In the winter of 2012-2013, the Siasconset Beach Preservation Fund (SBPF), an organization of Sconset homeowners concerned about the erosion of their neighborhood, reports the bluff lost up to 30 feet. The winter of 2013-2014 was tough too; some areas of the bluff lost another 20 feet or more.

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