Strong tidal currents and dangerous shoals south of Monomoy Point near Chatham led the Pilgrims to enter Cape Cod Bay and settle in Plymouth versus continue on their journey to Virginia as planned. Even after Monomoy Point Lighthouse was built in 1823, the fifth on Cape Cod, “wreckers” from Whitewash Village on Monomoy had plenty of opportunities to strip shipwrecks of their valuables. The practice stopped only after the fishing village was abandoned in the 1860s.
The original lighthouse, a wooden tower and iron lantern room atop a brick keeper’s house, was replaced with a cast-iron, brick-lined, cylindrical, 40-foot high tower and keeper’s house, and a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed.
The lighthouse was deactivated in 1923 and sold after the Cape Cod Canal was opened and Chatham Light installed a more powerful beacon. By this time, the constantly shifting sands had filled in the harbor Monomoy light had originally been built to protect. The lighthouse is now about a mile from water.
Navy planes used the unoccupied property for target practice in World War II, and after changing hands several times, the property was sold back to the federal government. Plans are in place to restore the light tower and keepers quarters that stand along with a brick generator house.
One of the least visited lighthouses in the state, Monomoy Light can be reached only by boat. Once a peninsula, Monomoy was eventually cut off from the mainland and bisected by erosion into two islands. The South Monomoy ferry in Chatham provides tours to the island. While the lighthouse is closed to the public, a walking tour of the grounds is offered.