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- Featured Hike -


(Distance from Chatham- 30 Minutes by car)

by Christopher Seufert

Highland Light, Truro Panaroma

A great sunset hike can be had at one of the most beautiful vistas on Cape Cod.  Truro's Highland Light and the Jenny Lind tower are a 30 minute drive from Chatham and frame an easy, but naturally and historically interesting, hike.  Actually this is more jaunt then hike.  Traveling north on Route 6, the Highland Lighthouse area is 3.3 miles north of Truro Center. Take the "Cape Cod Light/Highland Road" exit. Turn right onto Highland Road and follow to the Highland Lighthouse area, where there is plenty of free parking for your car.  Don't forget your camera and binoculars on this one.

In front of you is the Highland Lighthouse, which was the first lighthouse built on Cape Cod in 1797, though the present 66-foot brick tower dates from 1857. Today the lighthouse is automated, as are all the lighthouses on the Cape now.  A 1,000 watt bulb now does the job that, in earlier years, was accomplished with fifteen whale oil lamps or a huge Fresnel lens.  Plan to take the Truro Historical Society tour (Children must be 51” tall).  The hours are May 1st through October, 7 days a week, 10:00 am until 5:45 pm, and the Lighthouse Gift Shop is open 10 a.m. until sunset. 

Once at the top of the tower you'll be treated with a magnificent vantage point of the 100-foot cliff.  The Highland cliffs were once considered the ideal location for a lighthouse. Clay deposits in the cliffs, referred to as "Clay Pounds," were seen as a buffer against storm waves. Yet, it is clear today that the clay is unstable and slides off in tremendous chunks when undermined by waves.  Though this clay was in the past used by the local people it is now a federal law to dig it out, although it can be taken freely if it is loose. 

In July 1996, the lighthouse you're standing on was jacked up and moved back from the eroding cliff to save it from falling into the ocean.  Catch the 10-minute video before exiting and then take a short walk from the lighthouse to the observation deck, where you can get a closer look at the bluff, clay pounds, and wild Atlantic.  The view as the sun sets, with nothing but ocean between you and Portugal, really is a one-of-a-kind experience, and that's saying something for a place that wants little for ocean views.  When you've had your fill head back up the walkway toward the building on your right.

Keep in mind, as you walk back, that there are a few pieces of the landscape that are now missing from the Truro Highlands today. At one time, numerous wind-driven grist mills dotted the area. The deck house of the barge, Coleraine, which wrecked below the cliffs here in 1915, was salvaged and used as a bar until the 1950s. The Highland Life Saving Station (1872) was located by the beach, at the end of Coast Guard Road .  The lifesavers from that station patrolled the beach on foot and rescued shipwreck victims in dramatic fashion with their surfboat and breeches buoy.


Highland Lighthouse Photo Highland Links Photo Highland Links Photo


To find out more about all these things, the Truro Historical Society Museum, which stands just next to the lighthouse, contains seventeenth century firearms, shipwreck mementos, early fishing and whaling gear, household tools, farming implements, furniture, Sandwich glass, a pirate’s chest and lots more.  If you wanted to make a whole day of it the town-run Highland Links golf course, the oldest on Cape Cod, abutts this area, but if you're not golfing take note of the signage requesting that you not tresspass down the fairways.  Now on to the hike.

On your left, across the golf course, you'll see our final destination- the medievel-looking Jenny Lind tower.  Originally part of the Fitchburg Railway depot in Boston, it was moved here in 1927 by Henry Aldrich. It seems that Aldrich was a fan of the famous Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind, who performed in the hall above the station and is rumored to have sung from the tower to those unable to attend the concert.  (See the bottom of the page for more about Jenny Lind.)

Highland Lighthouse and Jenny Lind Tower Map

Leave your car in the parking lot and walk down the road the way you came. Take your next left and walk down toward the beach until the road ends at the former government air force station.  Now follow the path to your left until you see the castle-like shape of the Jenny Lind tower and head in through the overgrown woods and dunes.  (Remember, steer clear of the old military installation- there are trespassing signs that are quite serious and there is still communications equipment at work there.)

As you approach the tower you'll soon see that it really is just a tower, with no castle attached below, as you might have imagined from a distance.  For those who are braver (or if it's raining) you can poke your head and step into the hole in the base.  It's not very pleasant in there, with broken glass and old beer bottles, but looking up gives a very good view of the internal architecture.  If you listen carefully you'll hear the ocean pounding away below you.  You can exit the area taking the opposite trail on your way out or come back in the way you came.  Despite the government signs I see no indication that these trails are off-limits if you're respectful.  Drop us an email if you'd like to fill in our information on this trail- thanks!


Jenny Lind Trail Photo Photo- Jenny Lind Tower from a distance Photo- Jenny Lind Tower Close Up
Hole in the base of the Jenny Lind Tower Looking up in the Jenny Lind Tower Photo Jenny Lind Tower Photo

Keep Reading for more about the Highland Lighthouse and about opera singer Jenny Lind


Highland Light and Henry David Thoreau

Etching of first Highland Lighthouse

Henry David Thoreau stayed over night the Highland Light in the 1850's, and here is what he had to say about the experience,

"About the light-house I observed in the summer the pretty Polygala polygama, spreading ray-wise flat on the ground, white pasture thistles (Cirsium pumilum), and amid the shrubbery the Smilax glauca, which is commonly said not to grow so far north; near the edge of the banks about half a mile southward, the broom crowberry (Empetrum Conradii), for which Plymouth is the only locality in Massachusetts usually named, forms pretty green mounds four or five feet in diameter by one foot high,—soft, springy beds for the wayfarer. I saw it afterward in Provincetown, but prettiest of all the scarlet pimpernel, or poor-man's weather-glass (Anagallis arvensis), greets you in fair weather on almost every square yard of sand. From Yarmouth, I have received the Chrysopsis falcata (golden aster), and Vaccinium stamineum (Deerberry or Squaw Huckleberry), with fruit not edible, sometimes as large as a cranberry.

The Highland Light-house, where we were staying, is a substantial-looking building of brick, painted white, and surmounted by an iron cap. Attached to it is the dwelling of the keeper, one story high, also of brick, and built by government. As we were going to spend the night in a light-house, we wished to make the most of so novel an experience, and therefore told our host that we would like to accompany him when he went to light up. At rather early candle-light he lighted a small Japan lamp, allowing it to smoke rather more than we like on ordinary occasions, and told us to follow him. He led the way first through his bedroom, which was placed nearest to the light-house, and then through a long, narrow, covered passage-way, between whitewashed walls like a prison entry, into the lower part of the light-house, where many great butts of oil were arranged around; thence we ascended by a winding and open iron stairway, with a steadily increasing scent of oil and lamp-smoke, to a trap-door in an iron floor, and through this into the lantern. It was a neat building, with everything in apple-pie order, and no danger of anything rusting there for want of oil. The light consisted of fifteen argand lamps,(19) placed within smooth concave reflectors twenty-one inches in diameter, and arranged in two horizontal circles one above the other, facing every way excepting directly down the Cape. These were surrounded, at a distance of two or three feet, by large plate-glass windows, which defied the storms, with iron sashes, on which rested the iron cap. All the iron work, except the floor, was painted white. And thus the light-house was completed. We walked slowly round in that narrow space as the keeper lighted each lamp in succession, conversing with him at the same moment that many a sailor on the deep witnessed the lighting of the Highland Light. His duty was to fill and trim and light his lamps, and keep bright the reflectors. He filled them every morning, and trimmed them commonly once in the course of the night. He complained of the quality of the oil which was furnished. This house consumes about eight hundred gallons in a year, which cost not far from one dollar a gallon; but perhaps a few lives would be saved if better oil were provided. Another light-house keeper said that the same proportion of winter-strained oil was sent to the southernmost light-house in the Union as to the most northern. Formerly, when this light-house had windows with small and thin panes, a severe storm would sometimes break the glass, and then they were obliged to put up a wooden shutter in haste to save their lights and reflectors,—and sometimes in tempests, when the mariner stood most in need of their guidance, they had thus nearly converted the light-house into a dark lantern, which emitted only a few feeble rays, and those commonly on the land or lee side. He spoke of the anxiety and sense of responsibility which he felt in cold and stormy nights in the winter; when he knew that many a poor fellow was depending on him, and his lamps burned dimly, the oil being chilled. Sometimes he was obliged to warm the oil in a kettle in his house at midnight, and fill his lamps over again,—for he could not have a fire in the light-house, it produced such a sweat on the windows. His successor told me that he could not keep too hot a fire in such a case. All this because the oil was poor. A government lighting the mariners on its wintry coast with summer-strained oil, to save expense! That were surely a summer-strained mercy.

This keeper's successor, who kindly entertained me the next year, stated that one extremely cold night, when this and all the neighboring lights were burning summer oil, but he had been provident enough to reserve a little winter oil against emergencies, he was waked up with anxiety, and found that his oil was congealed, and his lights almost extinguished; and when, after many hours' exertion, he had succeeded in replenishing his reservoirs with winter oil at the wick end, and with difficulty had made them burn, he looked out and found that the other lights in the neighborhood, which were usually visible to him, had gone out, and he heard afterward that the Pamet River and Billingsgate Lights also had been extinguished.

Our host said that the frost, too, on the windows caused him much trouble, and in sultry summer nights the moths covered them and dimmed his lights; sometimes even small birds flew against the thick plate glass, and were found on the ground beneath in the morning with their necks broken. In the spring of 1855 he found nineteen small yellowbirds, perhaps goldfinches or myrtle-birds, thus lying dead around the light-house; and sometimes in the fall he had seen where a golden plover had struck the glass in the night, and left the down and the fatty part of its breast on it.

Thus he struggled, by every method, to keep his light shining before men. Surely the light-house keeper has a responsible, if an easy, office. When his lamp goes out, he goes out; or, at most, only one such accident is pardoned.

I thought it a pity that some poor student did not live there, to profit by all that light, since he would not rob the mariner. "Well," he said, "I do sometimes come up here and read the newspaper when they are noisy down below." Think of fifteen argand lamps to read the newspaper by! Government oil!—light, enough, perchance, to read the Constitution by! I thought that he should read nothing less than his Bible by that light. I had a classmate who fitted for college by the lamps of a light-house, which was more light, we think, than the University afforded.

When we had come down and walked a dozen rods from the light-house, we found that we could not get the full strength of its light on the narrow strip of land between it and the shore, being too low for the focus, and we saw only so many feeble and rayless stars; but at forty rods inland we could see to read, though we were still indebted to only one lamp. Each reflector sent forth a separate "fan" of light,—one shone on the windmill, and one in the hollow, while the intervening spaces were in shadow. This light is said to be visible twenty nautical miles and more, from an observer fifteen feet above the level of the sea. We could see the revolving light at Race Point, the end of the Cape, about nine miles distant, and also the light on Long Point, at the entrance of Provincetown Harbor, and one of the distant Plymouth Harbor Lights, across the Bay, nearly in a range with the last, like a star in the horizon. The keeper thought that the other Plymouth Light was concealed by being exactly in a range with the Long Point Light. He told us that the mariner was sometimes led astray by a mackerel fisher's lantern, who was afraid of being run down in the night, or even by a cottager's light, mistaking them for some well-known light on the coast, and, when he discovered his mistake, was wont to curse the prudent fisher or the wakeful cottager without reason.

Though it was once declared that Providence placed this mass of clay here on purpose to erect a light-house on, the keeper said that the light-house should have been erected half a mile farther south, where the coast begins to bend, and where the light could be seen at the same time with the Nauset Lights, and distinguished from them. They now talk of building one there. It happens that the present one is the more useless now, so near the extremity of the Cape, because other light-houses have since been erected there.

Among the many regulations of the Light-house Board, hanging against the wall here, many of them excellent, perhaps, if there were a regiment stationed here to attend to them, there is one requiring the keeper to keep an account of the number of vessels which pass his light during the day. But there are a hundred vessels in sight at once, steering in all directions, many on the very verge of the horizon, and he must have more eyes than Argus, and be a good deal farther-sighted, to tell which are passing his light. It is an employment in some respects best suited to the habits of the gulls which coast up and down here, and circle over the sea.

I was told by the next keeper, that on the 8th of June following, a particularly clear and beautiful morning, he rose about half an hour before sunrise, and having a little time to spare, for his custom was to extinguish his lights at sunrise, walked down toward the shore to see what he might find. When he got to the edge of the bank he looked up, and, to his astonishment, saw the sun rising, and already part way above the horizon. Thinking that his clock was wrong, he made haste back, and though it was still too early by the clock, extinguished his lamps, and when he had got through and come down, he looked out the window, and, to his still greater astonishment, saw the sun just where it was before, two thirds above the horizon. He showed me where its rays fell on the wall across the room. He proceeded to make a fire, and when he had done, there was the sun still at the same height. Whereupon, not trusting to his own eyes any longer, he called up his wife to look at it, and she saw it also. There were vessels in sight on the ocean, and their crews, too, he said, must have seen it, for its rays fell on them. It remained at that height for about fifteen minutes by the clock, and then rose as usual, and nothing else extraordinary happened during that day. Though accustomed to the coast, he had never witnessed nor heard of such a phenomenon before. I suggested that there might have been a cloud in the horizon invisible to him, which rose with the sun, and his clock was only as accurate as the average; or perhaps, as he denied the possibility of this, it was such a looming of the sun as is said to occur at Lake Superior and elsewhere. Sir John Franklin,(22) for instance, says in his Narrative, that when he was on the shore of the Polar Sea, the horizontal refraction varied so much one morning that "the upper limb of the sun twice appeared at the horizon before it finally rose."

He certainly must be a sun of Aurora (23) to whom the sun looms, when there are so many millions to whom it glooms rather, or who never see it till an hour after it has risen. But it behooves us old stagers to keep our lamps trimmed and burning to the last, and not trust to the sun's looming.

This keeper remarked that the centre of the flame should be exactly opposite the centre of the reflectors, and that accordingly, if he was not careful to turn down his wicks in the morning, the sun falling on the reflectors on the south side of the building would set fire to them, like a burning-glass, in the coldest day, and he would look up at noon and see them all lighted! When your lamp is ready to give light, it is readiest to receive it, and the sun will light it. His successor said that he had never known them to blaze in such a case, but merely to smoke.

I saw that this was a place of wonders. In a sea turn or shallow fog while I was there the next summer, it being clear overhead, the edge of the bank twenty rods distant appeared like a mountain pasture in the horizon. I was completely deceived by it, and I could then understand why mariners sometimes ran ashore in such cases, especially in the night, supposing it to be far away, though they could see the land. Once since this, being in a large oyster boat two or three hundred miles from here, in a dark night, when there was a thin veil of mist on land and water, we came so near to running on to the land before our skipper was aware of it, that the first warning was my hearing the sound of the surf under my elbow. I could almost have jumped ashore, and we were obliged to go about very suddenly to prevent striking. The distant light for which we were steering, supposing it a light-house five or six miles off, came through the cracks of a fisherman's bunk not more than six rods distant.(24)

The keeper entertained us handsomely in his solitary little ocean house. He was a man of singular patience and intelligence, who, when our queries struck him, rung as clear as a bell in response. The light-house lamps a few feet distant shone full into my chamber, and made it as bright as day, so I knew exactly how the Highland Light bore all that night, and I was in no danger of being wrecked. Unlike the last, this was as still as a summer night. I thought as I lay there, half awake and half asleep, looking upward through the window at the lights above my head, how many sleepless eyes from far out on the Ocean stream—mariners of all nations spinning their yarns through the various watches of the night—were directed toward my couch. "


More About Jenny Lind

Courtesy Wikipedia

Jenny Lind Photo 1 Jenny Lind Photo 2


Johanna Maria Lind (October 6, 1820 – November 2, 1887), better known as Jenny Lind, was a Swedish-born singer, often known as the Swedish Nightingale.  Born in Stockholm, she was noted for her singing voice from a very young age. When she was nine years old, her singing was overheard by a passerby, who the next day came with a music master and paid who had charge of Lind to give her up. She began to sing on stage when she was ten, and by the age of 16 she was a favorite in the Royal Swedish Opera. Her first great role was Agathe, in Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz in 1838. She was received throughout Europe with tremendous acclaim. She studied in 1841 with Manoel Garcia in Paris. Her first performance in England was on May 4, 1847, in the role of Alice in Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, which led to great successes in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Berlin, and Stockholm.

In January 1849, she performed in concert in Norwich, the first concert was organised by the Norwich Choral Society. She liked the city so much that she gave two free concerts a fortnight later. These concerts raised £1,250 for charitable purposes. The money raised was used to buy a house in Pottergate, which was converted into an infirmary for sick children. This hospital closed in 1898 and moved to a new site in Colman Rd., Norwich until its closure in 1975. The children's ward of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital is to this day known as the Jenny Lind Ward.

In 1850, Lind sailed to the United States and under the management of P.T. Barnum, went on a concert tour of a number of cities. Her first American performance was given in New York City on October 24, 1850. The tour was a great success, and she became known in the press as the "Swedish Nightingale". While in the States, she married a young pianist, Otto Goldschmidt, at 20 Louisburg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston. They returned to Europe together in 1852. Her tour of America created much excitement throughtout the country, even though she only performed on the East Coast (for example, Jenny Lind, California is named after her).

Although she ceased her professional singing career with her return to Europe, she continued to perform in a number of oratorios, concerts, and choruses, with a particular interest in Bach. She lived in England for the remainder of her life, where she became a philanthropist, and for some years a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music. Her last public performance was at Düsseldorf on January 20, 1870, where she sang in "Ruth", an oratorio composed by her husband. Jenny Lind lived her last years at Wynd's Point, behind the Little Malvern Priory, and is buried in the Great Malvern Cemetery in Malvern, Worcestershire.

Such was her fame that several objects were named after her. There was a Jenny Lind polka by Allen Dodsworth in 1846. The Jenny Lind cot (or crib or cradle) is the kind that has vertical bars on all sides. There is a plaque commemorating her in The Boltons, Kensington, London. Under the name "Jenny Lind Goldschmidt" she is commemorated in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, the only woman to be mentioned there. In January 2005, Elvis Costello announced that he was writing an opera about her, called "The Secret Arias". In includes songs by Hans Christian Andersen, who fell in love with Jenny. She did not return his affection.





More About Highland Light and the Jenny Lind Tower

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