History and Schedules of the Vineyard Lighthouses

Vineyard Lighthouses


When you picture Martha’s Vineyard, you probably think either A) Black dogs or B) The bright white and black lighthouse that has found its home in Edgartown or C) The gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs. Today, I will talk expand on B: the lighthouses found on island. Each of these five structures has a rich history tied to the island. These lighthouses served an important role in American history, as the Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds at one point saw more ships pass through than any other place in the world (except for the English Channel).


Lighthouses were especially necessary on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, because it sits in between rough waters. The south side of the island is affected by tides from Boston, and the north side is affected by a tide coming in from Rhode Island. To add to the list of fun things making the waters dangerous, reefs, shoals and rocks can be found basically everywhere. And, of course, sharks. Kidding. But the lighthouses greatly reduce this danger.


The West Chop Lighthouse (Location: Vineyard Haven)

Built in 1817, the West Chop Lighthouse was the only manned light on the island. While it was originally a wooden structure, West Chop Lighthouse was replaced with the current brick structure it is today. At two separate intervals, the lighthouse has been moved back from the 60-foot bluff it sits atop, in order to prevent this historical landmark from falling into the sea. The caretaker’s cottage, found right next to the lighthouse, is now occupied by the Coast Guard. This acts kind of like a nod to the history of Vineyard Haven, or “Holmes Hole” as it once was called. This connection is able to be drawn because for 300 years, Vineyard Haven was one of the most important ports on the Atlantic coast, and globally recognized as a port of protection.




The East Chop Lighthouse (Location: Oak Bluffs)

The East Chop lighthouse stands on an important place of history. The land there once housed one of the first ever telegraph signals in 1828, when Nantucket would send messages to Martha’s Vineyard, and then relayed to Woods Hole and South Plymouth, amongst other places.
A man by the name of Captain Silas Daggett was the one to actually found the lighthouse. He created it originally as a private establishment, on the funding of local merchants found in the area, and by some of the ships that would pass through. In 1875, the U.S. government bought the lighthouse and surrounding lands for $6,000. It originally had the moniker “Chocolate Lighthouse” for its brown-red color. Unfortunately for those who enjoyed the nick-name, it was painted white in 1988, leaving many confused as to why their older relatives referred to it as the Chocolate Lighthouse.


2016 Schedule


Open for sunsets
Open Sunday evenings June 19 – Sept 18
June 19 – July 31, 7pm-9pm
August 7 – Sept 18, 6pm-8pm
Admission is $5.00 for adults, children under 12 are free

The Edgartown Lighthouse (Location: Edgartown)

An Act of Congress provided money to build a lighthouse a quarter of a mile from shore in Edgartown. A little bit later, $5,000 dollars was given to complete the project. The first year it stood, the lighthouse was only accessible via boat. But more money was appropriated later in order to build a footbridge to remedy this issue.
In 1938, the original lighthouse was replaced by a new building that was rafted over from Ipswich. It was placed in the same place as the original structure. Sand has since filled the area between the shore and the island, eventually making the lighthouse attached to the mainland.


2016 Schedule
Open weekends May 28 – June 26 10am-5pm
Open daily June 27 – Sept 5, 10am to 5pm
Open weekends Sept 10 – Oct 9 10am to 5pm
Admission is $5.00 for adults, children under 12 are free


Edgartown Harbor Light, Shute image E19


The Gay Head Lighthouse (Location: Aquinnah)

President John Quincy Adams decided to authorize the building of a wooden tower on the cliffs of Aquinnah. This structure was replaced, however, with a more durable brick light in 1844. This particular lighthouse has always been just too close to the eroding cliffs there, and the possibility of it tipping into the ocean is just too possible.
In 1856, the famous-at-the-time Fresnel lens, which has 1,009 prisms was installed after a showing at the World’s Fair in Paris. It is currently preserved by the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society in Edgartown. It is lighted every night throughout the entire year.


2016 Schedule
Open weekends May 28 – June 19 11am-4pm
Open daily July 1 – Oct. 10, 11am-4pm
Lighthouse will also be open for sunset on Thursday evenings in July and August
Admission is $5.00 for adults, children under 12 are free

The Cape Poge Lighthouse (Location: Chappaquiddick)

The 4-acre location where the Cape Poge Lighthouse was built was purchased for $36 (a pretty good sum at the time) from a small group of men. Another Act of Congress appropriated $2,000 for the building of the light on the bluff. Originally built from wood, this particular light has had a series of unfortunate events.
In 1838, the building was destroyed by the sea, so it was rebuilt further inland. This new one lasted 50 years until the sea destroyed it again. It was again rebuilt, this time, opting out of the old reflector lamps for the new-age red and white revolving prisms. It fell victim to the sea yet again in 1892. Rebuilt again, the structure was now 33 feet tall, and lasted only another 35 years before falling apart. Again.
The present lighthouse was built in 1922 and revamped completely, understandably. It is now 55 feet tall, and its visible light distance is 12 miles. 1985, it made lighthouse history (a very exciting honor) by being the first entire lighthouse to be moved by helicopter. It was moved again in 1997 by helicopter again for repairs. Now, it stands 300 feet from the sea that has taken it down upwards of four times.




All the lighthouses, except for the Cape Poge one, are all very easy to get to. The Cape Poge lighthouse, however, can be visited through the Trustees of Reservations services, as they provide tours. The MV Museum has more information about the East Chop Lighthouse, the Edgartown Lighthouse and the Gay Head Lighthouse. Those three lighthouses are also available for special occasions including wedding ceremonies.




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