Many year-round residents of Aquinnah are descendants of the Wampanoag Indians who showed the colonial settlers how to kill whales, plant corn,
and find clay for the early brickyards.
Much later, these Aquinnah Wampanoaq were in great demand as boatsteerers in the whaling fleets. It
was the boatsteerer who cast the iron into the whale. The Aquinnah Wampanoaq were judged to be the most skillful and courageous boatsteerers
of that era.
The courage of the early residents of Aquinnah demonstrated itself in the many instances when they took to the seas in deadly weather to aid survivors of wrecks that took place off the Aquinnah Cliffs. As further testament to their valor, a plaque on the schoolhouse commemorates the fact that Aquinnah sent more men, in proportion to its size, to fight in World War I than did any other town in New England.
The brilliant colors of the mile-long expanse of the Aquinnah Cliffs astonished early explorers and have continued to be a source of intense interest to scientists and visitors alike. Here layers of sands, gravels, and clays of various hues tell a hundred-million year-old story of a land first covered with forests, then flooded and laid bare, then covered with new growth, time and again. The seas, glaciers, and land itself have contorted these once-level layers into waving bands of color that stream above the sea. Erosion continues as it has for centuries, turning the seas red and revealing fossil secrets. From the fossils revealed by erosion we know of the great sharks that swam over what is now Chilmark, of the clams and crabs that inhabited ancient seas. Pieces of lignite from the Cretaceous period are found on the beach, looking like nothing so much as the remnants of recent campfires. Fossil bones of camels and wild horses, as well as those of ancient whales, have been found in the Cliffs. The Aquinnah Cliffs are a national landmark; yet they are seriously threatened by erosion. To protect the Cliffs, climbing and the removal of clay are both prohibited by law.
Because of the extremely dangerous rocky ledge offshore, the seas around Aquinnah have always been a place of great peril to the mariner. One of the first revolving lighthouses in the country was erected atop the Cliffs in 1799. It had wooden works that became swollen in damp or cold weather, when the lighthouse keeper and his wife would be obliged to stand all night and turn the light by hand. The current red-brick, electrified Gay Head Light stands in its place.
NOTE: On May 14, 1997, the voters of Gay Head voted to change the town’s name to Aquinnah. The name change was signed into law on May 7, 1998.
Fire - To report a fire dial 911
Police - To report an emergency dial 911
To report urgency, but no emergency dial 311
State Road Station: 508.645.2313
Aquinnah Town Hall
65 State Road
Aquinnah, MA 02535
508.645.2300; Fax: 508.645.2310
If no direct number is listed please contact the town hall or website.
Town Administrator - 508.645.2300
Town Clerk - 508.645.2304
Town Accountant - 508.645.2305
Town Assessor - 508.645.2306
Building Inspector/Zoning Administrator - 508.645.2307
Fire Department - 508.645.2311
Harbormaster - 508.280.1177
Highway Surveyor - 508.645.9006
Police Department - 508.645.2313
Smoke Dectectors/Carbon Monoxide Detectors/Heating Inspector
Town Boards, Etc.
Aquinnah Community Program Committee
Aquinnah Housing Committee
Citizen’s Advisory Committee
Dukes County Advisory Board
Dukes County Regional Housing Authority
Martha’s Vineyard Commission
Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha’s Vineyard
Philbin Beach Scholarship Committee
Tri-Town Ambulance Committee
Up-Island Council on Aging
Up-Island Regional School Committee