Situated on a cliff 183 feet above sea level, Highland (Cape Cod) Light was the first of the lighthouses of the Cape. Construction of the lighthouse was prompted by numerous shipwrecks in "the dark chasm between Cape Ann and Nantucket" (Clark, p. 23).
The original lighthouse was authorized by George Washington in 1796. The government purchased ten acres of land for the lighthouse from Isaac Small. The lighthouse was completed in 1797.
The lamp consisted of 15 Argand lamps, which were surrounded by a revolving eclipser. This flashing light, the first in the US, was shown to differentiate from Boston Light. (Clark, p. 23, Thompson, p. 73)
By 1857, the original structure was deemed unsafe and replaced. The new 1857 light featured a first-order Fresnel lens, which was replaced in 1901 by an even larger room-sized Fresnel lens, supported on a bed of mercury. In 1932, a 1000-watt electric lamp was installed, which was said to be visible 45 miles away. Highland is currently lit by a pair of Fresnel-lensed aerobeacons. Each beacon contains two 1000-watt lamps (one flips on should the other fail).
The light was automated in 1986. It currently belongs to the National Park Service, and serves as a private aid to navigation.
By 1990, Highland Light was at serious risk of being lost to erosion. The first lighthouse was built 500 feet from the cliff. The current lighthouse stood a mere 100 feet from the cliff in 1990. In 1990, somewhere between 40 and 117 feet of cliff were lost to erosion. In an effort to save this historic lighthouse, the Truro Historical Society spearheaded an effort which, along with national Park Service, state, and Coast Guard funding, raised $1.5 million to move the lighthouse and keeper's house. In a span of 18 days in July 1996, International Chimney Inc. of Buffalo NY and Expert House Movers of Maryland moved the lighthouse to a new position 570 feet from the cliff. The lighthouse is currently located on Highland Golf Links.