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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Birchenough

The story of Thacher Island

Off the coast of Rockport is an island called Thacher Island, that has a very rich history, for a very small island. To begin with the Island is the only one currently operating twin lighthouses, still in operation today in North America. Thacher can be found on the East side of the Cape Ann, just south of the entrance to Sandy Bay, Rockport.

The Island received it name in 1635, where the Thacher family was traveling from Ipswich to Marblehead, but got caught in a storm and shipwrecked on the rocks. Only Anthony Thacher and his wife survived, they watched all 23 passengers and their children perish. This is quite a sad story because Thacher Island is less than a mile from mainland Rockport, MA.

Thacher Island from the North

In 1771, the Colonial Government bought it back for 500 pounds from the British. The same year, the twin lighthouses were erected and lighted for the first time on December 21st.

The present 123-foot granite towers were completed in 1861, raising the lights to 166 feet above sea level. This was also the first lighthouse to mark a dangerous spot, and not an entrance to a harbor. Originally four families lived on the isalnd to be keepersof the lights and man the fog whistle. Decendants of these families still live on Rockport today.

Both lights have what they call a a Fresnel Lens, and one of the original one's from Thacher Island can be seen at the Cape Ann Museum. This technology has been accredited to saving many men at sea. For now the lighthouse was being used to alert the mariner of something dangerous in the water. At Thacher Island there is a shoal or rocks under the water that could shipwreck your vessel if you didn't know where you were.

The Original Fresnel Lens, in the background at the Cape Ann Museum

(Picture taken at one of the "Art and Bloom" Exhibits)

Today the entire Island and its structures were designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in January of 2001 and officially recognizes Cape Ann Light Station’s significant impact in our nation’s maritime history. A total restoration of the brick two story duplex assistant keepers quarters and a guest apartment on the Island took place during the summer of 2002 allowing the Town to begin renting the guest apartment and providing an income stream to be used for further restoration. You can visit Thacher Island by boat, the island maintains 3 moorings adjacent to their boat ramp, but you must call the keeper of the island to reserve your mooring in advance, they are first come first serve.

The other neat thing about Thacher is you can visit it not only for a day but you can sign up to help the keeper of the light with his work in the summer. A friend of ours stayed for a week and did all kinds of chores on the island as well as learn about the rich history of The Twin lights and of lighthouses all over the world.

If you join us on a sail around Cape Ann you will sail right past this beautiful island and understand more about its rich history, and how it to this day still protects all the mariners from the danger that lies below.

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