Considered jewel of Cape Cod, historic lighthouse undergoes extensive renovation

TRURO, Mass. — Lighthouses are some of the most iconic symbols of Cape Cod.

Many of them have guided mariners up and down the Massachusetts coast for hundreds of years.

The Highland Lighthouse in Truro is the oldest and tallest one on the Cape and it’s showing its age.

The structure is currently wrapped in scaffolding as it undergoes a multi-million-dollar makeover.

“We’re doing a full exterior and interior restoration,” explained Greg Law, of the National Park Services.

Law is a Senior Exhibit Specialist for the Northeast region and is overseeing the intricate work.

Some of it’s mechanical.

“We’re reestablishing the venting of the lighthouse which essentially is how it breathes, which causes a lot of major issues with cracking, expansion, and contraction in the winter and moisture not being able to escape in the summer,” Law said.

Some of the work is structure. Law said that thousands of bricks had to be replaced so that the exterior portion of the lighthouse could also breath better.

“We’re replacing interior wooden wainscoting on the watch deck that was against the brick and has rotted due to insect and moisture damage,” Law added.

All of this is work is done with a reverence for the past and the vital rote this beacon has played in the region’s history.

“It’s basically the jewel of the Cape and saving this is so important to me,” Law said.

For years, Highland Light has been both a magnet for tourists and an important navigational tool.

“Lighthouses tell the story of 250 years of maritime history and shipwrecks,” said Bill Burke, historian for the Cape Cod National Seashore.

“Lighthouses are evocative of the past,” Burke said. “If they weren’t here no one would have any understanding of how people got around, how goods moved from Maine to Philadelphia...there was no Route 6 to get out here, there were no good paved roads.”

The goal is to finish the work so Highland Light can re-open next summer.

COVID-19 and a few building challenges have made the finish line a moving target.

“It’s very hard to find craftsmen, people that do these customized sorts of things,” Law said. “We only had one person that was even willing to look at the glass on the lighthouse because of the size of it and the conditions. You just don’t get that at Home Depot or anywhere like that.”

While the work continues the powerful light continues to serve a purpose. It’s run by the United States Coast Guard and still helps vessels navigate the Atlantic Ocean.

Burke hopes the renovated lighthouse will stand for years to come, educating future generations about an important chapter in the region’s history.

“I think there are certain icons when you come to the outer Cape: the beaches, the lifesaving stations, the lighthouses, old captain’s homes. So, it’s just one of those icons that people can relate to,” Burke added.

The Highland Lighthouse was also in the news 25 years ago. That’s when it was literally moved 500 feet inland so that it wouldn’t topple into the ocean due to beach erosion.