In 1847, a survey uncovered treacherous shoals that had not been charted before. This prompted the Coast Survey’s superintendent to request a lighthouse from Congress, who responded with an allocation of $12,000. After purchasing 10 acres of land from George Myrick for $250, the lighthouse was built in 1850.
The Sankaty Lighthouse was named after the Wampanoag tribe’s word “sankoty,” which translates to “highland.” The 70-foot tall brick and granite structure emits a white light every 7.5 seconds, which was initially powered by a single-wick whale oil lamp and a French Fresnel lens (now at the Nantucket Historical Association).
The keeper and his assistant would alternate four-hour shifts to tend to the light. The keepers and their families lived at the lighthouse from 1850 to 1944, when the U.S. Coast Guard took over management.
The Sankaty Head Light was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, and though it is not open to the public, visitors are welcome to explore the grounds.
In 1990, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted the lighthouse would crumble into the sea within 10 years. However, they were wrong, as the lighthouse lasted longer and was moved 400 feet back from the cliff’s edge in 2007.