July 9 - 1822: The Cape Cod island that cost $100

1989: Americans skimping on vacations helps Cape Cod's tourism
The second Billingsgate Lighthouse around 1850.

Billingsgate Island was a part of Wellfleet until 1942

It sold for $25 a acre in 1822

On this day in 1822, the U.S. Government purchased 4-acres from Elijah Cobb for $100 and a brick lighthouse and keeper's house was built by Winslow Lewis on the southern point of Billingsgate Island. The lighthouse exhibited a fixed white light illuminated by eight oil lamps with reflectors 40-feet above sea level and visible for 12 miles.  William Moore was appointed as the first lightkeeper.

On the right are two photos: First an old postcard and the second from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The shifting shoals and coast of sandbars that meander with the sea and the winds of Cod Cod and the Islands are hazardous to ships since locating the shallow waters is difficult. Many Cape Cod Lighthouses were built to warn ships of these perilous conditions and Billingsgate Island Lighthouse was built on an island spit to aid navigation around the shifting shoals of the island. Ships leaving Wellfleet Harbor would load Billingsgate sand for ballast. Over time, sandy Billingsgate Island, referred to as the Atlantis of Cape Cod, would be wind blown and washed away.

By 1850, Billingsgate Island fishing village was at its peak with 30 homes, a school, and try-works for rendering the oil from pilot whales caught in Cape Cod Bay. In 1855, storm erosion split the island in half and the encroaching sea threatened the lighthouse. A new 39-feet high brick lighthouse and keeper's house was built on higher ground on the north end of the island. The new Billingsgate Island Light was first lit on September 1, 1858 exhibiting a fixed white light illuminated by a fourth-order Fresnel lens 41-feet above sea level and visible for 12 miles.

1989: Fearing recession, Americans skimp on vacation costs

Cape Cod, once again, benefits from a recession
Visitor numbers were up 10 percent on our beaches

On this week in 1989, the New York Times was reporting that as recession looms across America, wary vacationers are camping out, eating in and heading home early to save a few dollars.

Recessions and gas price increases always benefit the Cape since more people opt to use their car rather than fly, and we are within a day's drive of one-third of the U.S. population.

The Times story reported that from the lush Tiger River Valley in the San Diego Zoo to the rocky coast of Maine, the travel industry is having its toughest summer in more than a decade. Travel officials see tourism as a sensitive barometer of consumer confidence and say its decline is an early warning of economic troubles.

"People are watching what they spend; they fear a recession, if a recession is not already in progress,'' said Jeff Jouett, a spokesman for the 74-year-old zoo, which imposed a hiring freeze last week after July attendance slumped 12 percent from last year. ''Consumer confidence is down."

Compounding the industry's woes are sharp increases in gasoline prices in the last week after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. And a round of fare increases ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent just announced by American, Northwest, Pan Am, United, T.W.A. and other airlines seems certain to further depress leisure travel.

"I've had a lot more customers call up, get prices and then say it's really out of their price range right now," said Magda Corbin, a co-owner of Azer Travel in Los Angeles.

Instead, people are taking cheaper, shorter vacations closer to home. ''Normally we go to Florida for a week, but we just went to Cape Cod for the weekend,'' Deborah Gintey of Middletown, R.I., said last week. ''We have had a lousy vacation this summer.''

Thus, even as revenue is down 10 percent this summer at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod, Mass., the number of visitors is up 10 percent at the nearby beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore. ''People may be doing more outdoors, one-shot kind of vacationing,'' said Anthony Bonanno, chief ranger at the 48-mile coastline.


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