Something to See While Becalmed Off Montara

It was long thought that the Cape Mayo lighthouse on Cape Cod had been destroyed in the ’20s.

Lighthouse Digest
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

If every picture tells a story, every lighthouse tells a thousand stories. One of the more intriguing ones that came to light only recently is that of the Point Montara lighthouse. Unlike the other lighthouses of Northern California, this one wasn’t built in place — it was an existing structure that was moved all the way cross-country from Cape Cod!

Credit research done by Colleen MacNeney for the discovery, word of which was first published earlier this week. The 30-ft tall tower was built of cast iron in 1881, and put in place on Mayo’s Beach, overlooking Cape Cod’s Wellfleet Harbor. It was thought to have been razed in the mid 1920s. But recently, MacNeney found a photograph of the tower on Yerba Buena dated 1928 with the inscription "formerly used at Mayo Beach, 2nd District.” An extensive search of the National Archives finally revealed documents confirming the move, and eventual placement of the tower at Montara in 1928.

But it had really been shipped out West and put into service at Point Montara.

© 2008 Cheri M. Larsh / Northern California Hostels

“It was transferred from excess stock at one Coast Guard District to another,” said MacNeney. The Mayo Beach/Montara light tower has one other distinction: It was the first lighthouse to have a female lighthouse keeper — Sarah Atwood, who lit the wicks at Mayo Beach every night until 1891.

The light tower is still in use today, with an automated electric beacon having long ago replaced the kerosene-fired light. In addition to being a tourist attraction, the grounds also feature a 50-bed American Youth Hostel.

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