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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Martha's Vineyard Lighthouses

If you love lighthouses, we hope you will visit us where you can explore them to your heart's content. In a previous blog we have written about the Lighthouses of Cape Cod but we don't want to forget about the islands to our south; namely Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. In this blog, we will be sharing information about the lighthouses of Martha's Vineyard.

During the 1700s and 1800s lighthouses were paramount for the safe harbor of mariners, especially when navigating the waters approaching an island. The island of Martha's Vineyard is home to five of these guardians of ports. They are all located on the north side of the island overlooking Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds, the entrance to Edgartown Harbor, and Cape Poge. All are easily accessible with the exception of Cape Poge Light.

We hope the following information is helpful to you in exploring these beautiful and historic beacons of safety from a bygone era. It is through the efforts of organizations that recognize the importance of maintaining them that we are able to enjoy them today.

East Chop and West Chop Lighthouses in Vineyard Haven
From the mid 1600s to the mid 1900s, the harbor called "Holmes Hole" was considered one of the most important ports of protection on the Atlantic coast. In 1871 it acquired the name Vineyard Haven and was Martha's Vineyard's busiest port. The harbor is protected by two areas known as East Chop and West Chop with lights in each area. In England, the word "chop" meant the entrance to a channel.

East Chop Lighthouse  
Photo of East Chop Lighthouse in Vineyard Haven
The first lighthouse in East Chop was built and privately owned by a sea captain and was funded by local mariners and some who were just passing through. The government bought the little lighthouse in 1878 and built the current structure out of cast iron. It was built on a cliff and stood 79 feet above the ocean. It was fitted with a forth order Fresnel lens that emitted a fixed white light. It was later converted to a flashing red light and then a flashing green light. The lighthouse was originally a reddish-brown color and was called " the Chocolate Lighthouse". It wasn't until 1988 that it was painted white. The lighthouse was automated in 1934 and the original Fresnel lens was replaced by the more modern optic lens in 1984. The lighthouse is open to the public for tours on Sundays right before sunset from mid-June to mid-September.

West Chop Lighthouse
Photo of West Chop Lighthouse in Vineyard Haven, MA
The current brick lighthouse was built in 1838 and replaced the wooden one built in 1817. On October 5th of that year, the fixed white light went into service. In 1846, the tower was enclosed in wood shingles, giving it an octagonal shape. In 1891, this was replaced by a new 45-foot red brick tower. It was painted white in 1896. Twice during the 1800s it was necessary to move the structure back from the edge of the cliff due to erosion. Although the original fourth order Fresnel lens remains in place today, the lighthouse was  automated in 1976. Its flashing white light is still visible for 15 miles out to sea. Although it is closed to the public, you can see the lighthouse from West Chop Road and from the ferry entering Vineyard Haven.

Gay Head Lighthouse  
Photo of Gay Head Lighthouse
The mutit-color, clay cliffs of Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard rise 130 feet above the sea. This picturesque location is home to the Gay Head Lighthouse. On November 18, 1799, the wooden lighthouse that was built on a stone base went into service. Its revolving light could be seen for more than 20 miles. In 1844, the tower had to be moved back from the eroding cliffs edge. In the mid 1800s, this light was deemed to be the 9th most important in the United States. In 1855 work began on a new, 51-foot, brick lighthouse that would house a first order Fresnel lens. In 1885 the light was converted to kerosene and in 1952, the Fresnel lens was replaced by an electric beacon. In 1998, Gay Head's name was changed to Aquinnah. Because of erosion the cliffs are closed to the public but the lighthouse is open on weekend evenings from one hour before sunset until a half hour after sunset from mid-June until mid-September.

Edgartown Lighthouse   
Photo of Edgartown Lighthouse
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Martha's Vineyard had a booming whaling industry. Edgartown was home to more than 100 captains of whaling ships. The homes that they built remain among some of the most beautiful in all of New England. In 1828, the government appropriated money to build a lighthouse that sat off shore on pilings. It had a fixed, white light that could be seen for 14 miles out to sea. In 1830, a wooden bridge was built to provide easier access to the lighthouse. In 1856, a fourth order Fresnel lens replaced the old lamps. After a hurricane destroyed the building in 1938, a cast iron, 45-foot  tower was brought to Edgartown from Ipswich, MA and fitted with an automatic, flashing red light. In 1990, a new plastic lens was installed and the light converted to solar power. Over the years, sand has filled the area between the lighthouse and the island until it sits on the beach today. Renovations began in 2007 and this lovely lighthouse is now a popular spot for wedding photos. It is open to the public at specified times from Memorial Day until Columbus Day. VTA buses will drop you off on Church Street and it is about a 15 minute walk to the lighthouse.

Cape Poge Lighthouse     
Photo of Cape Poge Lighthouse
Chappaquiddick is a small island just east of Martha's Vineyard and near Edgartown Harbor. Cape Poge is at the northeast tip of this tiny island. In 1801, a 35-foot, octagonal wooden lighthouse was built there. In 1838, it had to be moved back from the eroding bluff. A new lighthouse with new lights was completed in 1844 and a forth order Fresnel lens was installed. In 1893, a new wooden tower was built 40 feet inland. It was intended to be temporary but still exists today. Because of erosion, It has since been moved inland four times. It has also been refurbished, has had a plastic lens installed, and has been automated. Cape Poge Light still functions as a navigational aid. If you are willing to hike the three and a half miles from Dike Bridge, you can visit the lighthouse. Tours are offered May through November and reservations are required.

The island of Martha's Vineyard is an easy day-trip from our Cape Cod bed and breakfast inn. Come stay with us and explore these fabulous pieces of history.

Jan Preus, the Innkeeper, chef, and artist in residence at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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