Mariners have been wary of the perilous shoals and reefs surrounding Nantucket for hundreds of years. The Davis South Shoals were named after and discovered by Lieutenant Charles H. Davis on a sounding operation in 1847. This discovery prompted the government to fund the construction of a lighthouse on the eastern shore of Nantucket along the cliffs of Siasconset. Sankaty Head Light was built in 1849 and was fully active by the following year. Sankaty Head Light is currently operating as it has for almost two hundred years and still provides a beacon of light for captains navigating around the coast of Nantucket.
Today, Sankaty Head Light is easily accessible and a perfect stop for a picturesque view of one of Nantucket’s most famous landmarks. Just head all the way down Milestone Road until you hit the rotary at Sconset village and then continue on straight to Broadway, a narrow one way road lined with petite shingled cottages strangled in ivy and blooming flowers. Take that right onto Shell Street, and your second right onto Butterfly street. This becomes Baxter Road, which you follow all the way to the end and arrive at Sankaty Head Light.
All that remains of the old lightkeeper’s house and the original location of the lighthouse are two fractured foundations of brick and stone mottled with weeds. The lighthouse itself was moved 400 feet away from the eroding cliffs in 2007 by the Sconset Land Trust to prevent its imminent collapse into the sea. Today, the looming structure stands 60 feet high with it’s red ring wrapped around the middle of the white sentinel. Visitors can walk right up to the base and admire the gigantic edifice in all it’s historical beauty.The numbers “1850” hang above the door to reinforce the historicity of the lighthouse. It is an iconic image of Nantucket that represents their way of life far before sonar depth finders and global positioning systems.