Highland Light reopens to public after renovation: What to know about the Truro lighthouse

Highland Light in Truro is looking pretty spiffy these days.

According to the Cape Cod National Seashore, the legendary lighthouse has a new breathable coating, and masonry has been repaired, part of a recent renovation project that will be celebrated at a rededication ceremony at 10 a.m. on May 3.

The renovation project was launched after a National Park Service historic architecture team determined that a ventilation issue was accelerating deterioration of the structure, including exterior cracks and corrosion.

The ventilation issue stemmed from the application of a cement-like material to fill in air spaces and stabilize the lighthouse during its move back from an eroding cliff in 1996, according to the Seashore. This cement filling, along with non-breathable coatings applied to the lighthouse over the years, reduced venting and allowed excessive moisture to build up.

Highland Light in North Truro was moved 450 feet back from the eroding bluff in 1996.
Highland Light in North Truro was moved 450 feet back from the eroding bluff in 1996.

With Highland Light's reopening for seasonal tours, we thought we'd take a look at the popular beacon's history.

When was Highland Light built?

According to the Highland Light website (highlandlighthouse.org), there have been three towers at the Highland Light site over the years. The first version, a 45-foot-tall wooden tower, was established in 1797. In 1831, a new brick lighthouse was built. The 66-foot-tall brick tower that we see today was built in 1857, along with a keeper's house and generator shed.

A graphic from the July 14, 1996 edition of the Cape Cod Times shows how Highland Light was moved.
A graphic from the July 14, 1996 edition of the Cape Cod Times shows how Highland Light was moved.

Why was Highland Light moved in 1996?

While Highland Light was once located at a comfortable distance from the Atlantic-facing cliffs, erosion kept carving away at the margin. According to the National Park Service, "Erosion of the steep cliff throughout the years brought the present light station around 100 feet from the cliff's edge by the early 1990s."

The Truro Historical Society raised funds to move the lighthouse, buoyed by federal and state grants. In 1996, the lighthouse was moved 450 feet inland, according to the National Park Service

Here's how the Truro Historical Society described the moving operation:

"Using hydraulic jacks, the entire structure was lifted, mounted on rollers and set on rails. Thousands of visitors gathered to watch the move, which took place over eighteen days. During the move, workers placed quarters on the beams. The whole process went so slowly that you could only tell that the lighthouse was moving by watching the coins on the rails."

Have any celebrities stayed at Highland Light?

Literary superstar Henry David Thoreau stayed at Highland Light twice while visiting the Cape and wrote about the experience in his book "Cape Cod," according to Cape Cod National Seashore historian William Burke.

It seems like Thoreau took full advantage of his unusual lodgings, according to this passage from "Cape Cod": "As we were going to spend the night in a light-house, we wished to make the most of so novel an experience, and therefore told our host that we would like to accompany him when he went to light up. At rather early candle-light he lighted a small Japan lamp, allowing it to smoke rather more than we like on ordinary occasions, and told us to follow him."

Highland Light in Truro.
Highland Light in Truro.

How can I tour Highland Light?

Tours will run daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 3 through Oct. 31. The last tour of the day starts at 4:30 p.m. In addition to the tour, the Highland Light keeper's shop offers an assortment of interesting items for sale.

There is a tour charge: $8 for adults, $5 for students and $7 for seniors and military members. Children must be at least 48" tall to climb the lighthouse because of the stairs and ladders. For more information, visit the Highland Light website.

Eric Williams, when not solving Curious Cape Cod mysteries, writes about a variety of ways to enjoy the Cape, the weather, wildlife and other subjects. Contact him at ewilliams@capecodonline.com. Follow him on X: @capecast.

Thanks to our subscribers, who help make this coverage possible. If you are not a subscriber, please consider supporting quality local journalism with a Cape Cod Times subscription. Here are our subscription plans.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod lighthouses: Truro's newly renovated Highland Light open soon