Martha’s Vineyard is home to five iconic lighthouses, built between 1799 and 1869, and strategically positioned at different locations along the shore. Beacons in history and navigation, these lighthouses once saw more ships sail through Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound than any other place in the world except the English Channel. Each lighthouse is integral to the coastal character of Martha’s Vineyard and provides sweeping views over Vineyard Sound, Nantucket Sound, Edgartown Harbor, and Cape Poge on Chappaquiddick. Visitors flock to the Vineyard’s lighthouses to appreciate their historical significance, take beautiful photos, and in some cases, attend weddings and special events on their property.
The West Chop Lighthouse is located on the north end of “West Chop,” the peninsula surrounded on the north and west by Vineyard Sound and on the east by Vineyard Haven Harbor. The West Chop Lighthouse is positioned on the north side of the chop and is accessible by driving straight north on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. The West Chop Lighthouse was the Island's last manned light. Originally built in 1817, and in 1838 the wooden building was replaced by the present brick structure. It was moved back from the edge of the 60-foot-high bluff in 1848 and again in 1891. In recent times, the small caretaker's cottage at its foot has been occupied by Coast Guard personnel and is not open to the public.
The East Chop Lighthouse in Oak Bluffs is located on “East Chop,” the peninsula surrounded on the west by Vineyard Sound and on the east by Nantucket Sound. The lighthouse stands on Telegraph Hill, accessible by East Chop Drive, on the former site of one of the first telegraph signals, set up in 1828. In the mid-1800s, Captain Silas Daggett built a privately owned lighthouse on East Chop, funded by local merchants who sailed in the area and by some of the ships passing through. In 1875, the U.S. government bought the lighthouse and its land for $6,000 and the present cast-iron structure was built on the cliff 79 feet above the sea. Until 1988, when it was painted white, the East Chop Light was fondly called the Chocolate Lighthouse, for its brown-red color. The East Chop Lighthouse is available for private rental through the Martha’s Vineyard Museum for weddings and special events, during the times that it is not open to the public. The lighthouse is located on a residential area and parking is limited so we suggest renting a bus or car to access it, or riding your bike up East Chop Drive from Oak Bluffs harbor.
The Edgartown Lighthouse was originally built in 1828, on a small man-made island in the Edgartown harbor. An Act of Congress allocated money to build it 1/4 mile from shore. Later, $5,500 was appropriated to complete the project and Seth Vincent was paid $80 for a right of way to the tower. For the first year, the only way to get to the light was by boat, but another $2,500 was allocated to build a foot bridge. The first structure was replaced in 1938 by one that was rafted to the Vineyard from Ipswich. Although the new light was placed on the original site, sand had filled in the area between the Island and the mainland, and the current Edgartown Lighthouse stands on shore, accessible by a walking path in front of the Harbor View Hotel on North Water Street.
The Edgartown Lighthouse is also available for private rental through the Martha’s Vineyard Museum for weddings and special events, during the times that it is not open to the public. If you are interested in utilizing the adjacent beach with no access to the lighthouse, contact the Edgartown Parks Department.
The Gay Head Lighthouse has always been perilously close to the ever-eroding clay cliffs of Aquinnah, the most western town of Martha’s Vineyard. The red brick light was built in 1844 to replace a wooden tower authorized by President John Quincy Adams. In 1856, the marvelous Fresnel lens with its 1,009 prisms was installed, after having been proudly exhibited at the World's Fair in Paris. The Martha's Vineyard Museum acquired the lens and will display it at it’s new home near the Vineyard Haven lagoon. The Gay Head, East Chop, and Edgartown Lighthouses are maintained by the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society under a 30-year lease with the United States Coast Guard. Please visit the Martha's Vineyard Museum's website, for a schedule of times the lighthouse is open to the public.
In May 2015, the Gay Head Lighthouse was successfully moved 129 feet away from eroding cliffs, buying at least 150 years before erosion may require another move inland. The 400-ton tower survived the delicate move without a single crack. For more information and to watch the fascinating video of the move on GayHeadLight.org.
The Cape Poge Lighthouse is located on Chappaquiddick or “Chappy,” a small island on the east end of Martha’s Vineyard, accessible by the Chappy Ferry. The lighthouse is by far the Island's most remote and was built in 1801 when an Act of Congress appropriated $2,000 for it. A 4-acre site was purchased for $36 from Marshal Jenkins, Martin Pease, and Joseph Huxboro. The original lighthouse was made of wood and had a small caretaker's cottage. By 1838, the building was destroyed by the ravaging sea and rebuilt farther inland. It lasted only 50 years before the sea again claimed it and it was rebuilt, with a change from reflector lamps to red and white revolving prisms.
The sea reclaimed the lighthouse in 1892 and it was rebuilt as a 33-foot-tall tower that lasted only another 35 years.The present white wooden structure was built in 1922, 55 feet high with a light visible for a distance of 12 miles. In 1985 it gained the distinction of being the first entire lighthouse to be moved by helicopter; in 1997 the lantern was again moved by helicopter for repairs. The lighthouse's present site is only 300 feet from the ever-hungry sea. The Trustees of Reservations offers tours of the Cape Poge Lighthouse, including transportation from the Chappy Ferry.
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