Located at one of my favorite beaches in New England, the aptly named Coast Guard Beach, the Nauset Coast Guard Station is an imposing Colonial Revival structure perched upon the bluffs providing sweeping views of the shoreline. The Nauset Coast Guard Station was built in 1936 to replace a late nineteenth century Coast Guard Station which had stood further eastward and north, on land which has been eroded away by the ocean. The present structure was reportedly commissioned after Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau Jr. and his fellow picnickers were driven in 1935 by a summer thunderstorm to seek shelter in the old and antiquated Coast Guard Station, built after the Civil War. Construction of the new station was authorized several weeks after this incident as Morganthau, who spent summers on Cape Cod, took a personal interest in the building’s construction, visiting the site during the summer of 1936.
This area of beaches has had a tradition of assistance to shipwrecked sailors. In 1802, the country’s first all volunteer life saving organization, the Massachusetts Humane Society, erected a hut on this beach. It was replaced by a larger one in 1855 and by the Nauset Life Saving Station in 1872. The building was added on to and moved twice before it was replaced by the present structure in 1936. The building was occupied by the Coast Guard as a station until 1958. It now is home to an education center as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
In 1838, three brick lighthouses served as aids to navigation off the Nauset Beach shores in Eastham on Cape Cod; these lights were replaced by three wooden towers in 1892. From 1911 to 1923, only one of these Beacons were used, as technology had evolved sufficiently enough to install a revolving light. Nauset was thus distinguished from the single light of Highland to the north in Truro and the twin lights of Chatham to the south. The forty-eight-foot-tall, brick-lined, cast-iron Chatham tower, originally built in 1877, was dismantled, hauled up the cape, and rebuilt atop a cement foundation 200 feet from the cliff’s edge at Nauset Beach. To provide accommodations for the keepers of the relocated cast-iron tower, the 1876 dwelling built for the Three Sisters was relocated farther away from the edge of the bluff. The cliff continued to fall into the sea over time and the lighthouse and dwelling were moved again in the 1990s. Both structures are owned and maintained by the Nauset Light Preservation Society.
Learn more on the history of the site in the Three Sisters Lighthouse post.
The Chapel in the Pines church had its origins in the growing desire by many late-19th century New Englanders to move away from the strictures of fundamentalist religion. A Universalist Society was formed in Eastham on the Cape for the erection of a new place of worship. Local families and esteemed citizens pooled resources and constructed the building themselves over five months, under the direction of an Elkany Hopkins (though sources state he died in 1885). The Victorian Gothic church has a certain flair with the turned posts at the entry, bell tower, and roof cresting. After serving various congregations and uses (including once as a coffee shop), the building was purchased by the Nauset Fellowship. In 2017 and 2018, the Chapel underwent a renovation with money raised from the community along with two grants from the Town of Eastham’s Community Preservation Act funds.
The first lighthouse station for Eastham, known as the Nauset Beach Light Station (nicknamed The Three Sisters), was completed in 1838. The name Nauset, which came from a local Native American tribe, formerly referred to the fifteen-mile stretch of Cape Cod from what is now Brewster almost to modern-day Truro. The lighthouse station actually consisted of a group of three lights atop 15-foot high brick towers located on a bluff looking over the Atlantic. Even though there were three lighthouses, the station was staffed by only one keeper up until 1867, when the position of assistant keeper was added. The assistant lived with the head keeper and his family in the station’s one dwelling (talk about cozy)!. The Lighthouse Board in 1873 noted the inadequacy of these accommodations in a report stating, “The dwelling-house should be enlarged, or a small cottage built for the accommodation of the assistant keeper, as the building now occupied is entirely too small”. Congress allocated $5,000 in 1875 for a keeper’s dwelling at Nauset Beach, which was erected in 1876.
After the relentless Atlantic Ocean brought the three brick towers to the brink of disaster due to the eroding land under them, in 1892, three new towers were constructed thirty feet west of the originals along with a brick oil house. The replacements were constructed of wood so they could be readily moved if the need occurred again. By 1911, it was determined that there was a need for only one lighthouse (as three could get confusing), and two of the three lighthouses were auctioned off, the third was attached to the keeper’s house. The two towers (minus their lanterns) were sold in 1918 to the Cummings family of Eastham for $3.50. The family moved the two towers to a nearby location and joined them together as a summer cottage called “The Towers” on Cable Road. In 1923, the smaller wooden lighthouse was retired and replaced with the current Nauset Light. In 1983 after much uncertainty as to their future, the National Park Service united the Three Sisters in a park, just west of their original location for history geeks like us to enjoy!