Many people ask us if the breakwater was built to connect the lighthouse to the land. In fact, the breakwater was built first. In the 1850s several severe nor’easters caused considerable damage to many Rockland waterfront structures, businesses and to ships in the harbor. Lack of a protective breakwater clearly prevented the harbor from realizing its potential as a commercial port and a harbor of refuge for coastal shipping. In spite of citizen petitions and intervention by a local Senator, Congress did not approve constuction of a breakwater until 1880.
The original plan called for two breakwaters to be built – one portion extending 1,900 feet from the shore at Jameson Point and the other section extending 2,640 feet from South Ledge back towards the point. Cost estimate for the project was $500,000.
As early as 1886, discussions among those responsible for the project considered changing the original two-breakwater design in favor of a single, long breakwater. The single breakwater plan was approved in 1890 and was completed on November 24, 1899. Severe winter storms during the winter of 1899-1900 proved that the height needed to be increased. A four-foot-high cap was completed on October 15, 1901, and included the base for a lighthouse to be built at the end. A total of 768,774 tons of stone were used for the project, total expenditure up to that point was $880,093.
The breakwater itself became a hazard to navigation and as a temporary measure, until the lighthouse was built, a beacon was placed at the end of the breakwater. The original light was a “fixed white lens lantern, 18 feet above the breakwater. This lantern hung on an iron crane on top of stone beacon, 24 feet above sea level.” On August 15, 1892 the beacon was changed to two red lanterns, spaced six feet apart, one above the other placed on a mast atop the stone pillar. In 1895, the beacon was further improved by providing a six-by-six foot building at the base of the mast.