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The charming history of Eastham’s ‘Three Sisters’ lighthouses

Easthams Three Sisters lighthouses

“The Galactic Sister” –  One of the Three Sisters lighthouses under a starry night’s sky, as captured by nighttime photographer Timothy Little. Little’s photo can also be seen on the cover of Cape Cod LIFE August 2017.

Cape Cod Life ONLINE exclusive

Since their birth in 1838, the Three Sisters lighthouses in Eastham have worked together as a family—first to illuminate the waters off Nauset Light Beach to keep sailors and their families safe, and now to educate the public about the importance of lighthouses in Cape Cod’s history.

The journey of the Three Sisters to their current location in the woods off Cable Road began in 1836 when residents of Eastham, who were concerned about shipwrecks, petitioned the Boston Marine Society to ask the U.S. Congress to fund construction of a lighthouse. There were already a pair of lighthouses in Chatham to the south and a single lighthouse in Truro to the north, so it was decided that three lighthouses would be constructed at Nauset Beach Light Station to help mariners differentiate between Cape towns from the water. Congress granted the petitioners $10,000, and builder Winslow Lewis began construction soon after. The completed 15-foot towers resembled three women wearing white dresses and black hats standing on the shoreline, so the nickname “Three Sisters” caught on quickly with sailors—and it has been used to describe the towers ever since.

The original Three Sisters served until 1890, when erosion of Nauset Light Beach made it impossible to preserve the towers. That first generation of sister towers were replaced by a second generation of 22-foot, wooden look-alike towers in 1892, which were built farther from the edge of the cliff.

The second generation of Three Sisters served for almost two decades, until erosion again took its toll. While the middle tower remained on the beach as a navigational beacon, flashing her lights three times every 10 seconds as a reference to the original three towers, the other two sisters were decommissioned. Helen Cummings purchased the two lighthouses at auction for $3.50 in 1918, and they were moved to their current location on Cable Road in 1920. A room was added to connect the two towers, and the structure became known as the Twin Lights Cottage. Bill Burke, cultural resources program manager at the Cape Cod National Seashore, which currently oversees all three lighthouses, says Cummings and her family called the cottage home. “They used one tower for a kitchen and living room, with a bedroom upstairs on the landing,” he says. “The other tower had two bedrooms.” By 1923, the single tower that remained on the beach was also decommissioned, sold, and incorporated into a cottage.

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