The Seashore also includes several historic sites that tell their part of the region's history. The Old Harbor Lifesaving Station, Race Point Beach (off Race Point Road), Provincetown (tel. 508/487-1256), was one of 13 lifesaving stations mandated by Congress in the late 19th century. This shingled shelter with a lookout tower was part of a network responsible for saving some 100,000 lives. Before the U.S. Lifesaving Service was founded in 1872 (it became part of the Coast Guard in 1915), shipwreck victims lucky enough to be washed ashore were still doomed unless they could find a "charity shed"--a hut suppplied with firewood--maintained by the Massachusetts Humane Society. The six valiant "Surfmen" manning each lifesaving station took a more active approach, patrolling the beach at all hours, sending up flares at the first sign of a ship in distress, and rowing out into the surf to save all they could. Their old equipment is on view at this museum. Free admission; parking fee for Race Point Beach. It's open July through August, daily 3 to 5pm; call for off-season hours. Closed November--April.
The Marconi Wireless Station, on Marconi Park Site Rd. (off Route 6), South Wellfleet (tel. 508/349-3785), tells the story of the first international telegraphic communication. It's from this bleak spot that Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi sent, via a complex of 210-foot cable towers, the world's first wireless communique: "Cordial greetings from President Theadore [sic] Roosevelt to King Edward VII in Poldhu, Wales." It was also here in 1912 that news of the troubled Titanic first reached these shores. There's scarcely a trace left of this extraordinary feat of technology (the station was dismantled in 1920); still, the outdoor displays convey the leap of imagination that was required.
The Captain Edward Penniman House, at Fort Hill off Route 6 in Eastham, is a grandly ornate, multicolored 1868 Second Empire mansion maintained by the National Seashore. The house is open for tours afternoons in season, but the exterior far outshines the interior. Call the Visitor Center at tel. 508/255-3421 for tour times.
Five lighthouses, all automated now, dot the Seashore. Nauset Light in Eastham, with its cheerful red stripe (a "day mark"), was moved from Chatham in 1923. The lighthouse flashes an alternating red-and-white light every 10 seconds and can be seen for 23 miles; public tours are offered. In 1996, both Nauset Light and Highland Light were successfully moved back from precarious positions on the edge of dunes.
Highland Light, also known as Cape Cod Light, in Truro, is the site of the first light in this area, dating back to 1798. The present structure was built in 1857. Follow signs from Route 6 in North Truro, to the end of Highland Road. This lighthouse, set high on a cliff, was the first light seen by ships traveling from Europe. Now that the structure has been moved back from the eroding cliff, the National Seashore allows visitors to climb the winding staircase to the top of the lighthouse with a tour guide. Nearby is the Truro Historical Society in the 1907 Highland House. The museum has a fascinating collection of nautical items. Admission to both the museum and lighthouse is $5 adults, free for children under 12. (Note: there's a 4-foot height requirement for climbing to the top of the lighthouse.) Both the lighthouse and the Highland House are open June to September daily 10am--5pm. Closed October--May.
Wood End Light on Long Point in Provincetown is an unusual square lighthouse built as a "twin" to Long Point Light in 1873. Hearty souls can hike first across the breakwater at the west end of Commercial Street and then about half a mile over soft sand to see this lighthouse. Its beacon is now powered by solar energy.
Long Point Light in Provincetown, established in 1827, is isolated at the very tip of Cape Cod. It's about an hour's walk from the breakwater, or a short boat ride from the center of town. Its fixed green light can be seen for 8 miles. This lighthouse was once the center of a thriving fishing community in the 1800s. Storms and erosion led the community to float their house across the bay to Provincetown's west end, where a couple of the houses--some of the oldest in town--are still standing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.