Tag Archives: Martha’s Vineyard Lighthouses

Why is the Gay Head Light So Famous?

Gay Head Light

If you’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard, you’ve probably heard someone mention the Gay Head Light.  This 170-foot tall lighthouse, located in Aquinnah, first opened in 1799.  A few years before, in 1796, Senator Peleg Coffin requested the lighthouse be built to guide ships past a dangerous range of underwater rocks known as “The Devil’s Bridge.”  They undertook a study to determine its necessity and found that more than 80,000 ships passed that particular area every year.  In 1798, the United States Congress under President John Adams (a Massachusetts native!) approved the lighthouse’s construction.

The Gay Head Light almost met its ruin in the 1970s and 1980s.  The U.S. Coast Guard, the group charged with maintaining the lighthouses, designated the Gay Head Light for destruction (along with two other Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses: East Chop and the Edgartown Harbor Light).  Lighthouses, it seems, are expensive to maintain – and thanks to the increasing prevalence of satellite navigation systems, they’re also largely surplus to requirements these days.  Thankfully, people took notice of its impending destruction and stood up to save this beautiful structure.

Saving the Gay Head Light

The Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI) petitioned the government to obtain control of the lighthouses.  In 1985, the U.S. Coast Guard transferred control of all three lighthouses (Gay Head, East Chop, and Edgartown Harbor Light) to VERI, who took control of management and maintenance.  This marked the first time in American history that the government has transferred control of an active lighthouse to a private institution.  In 1994, VERI transferred the light to the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society (now known as the Martha’s Vineyard Museum).

In 1985 (before it transferred to the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society), VERI and a litany of private donors set about restoring the lighthouse: replacing broken glass, removing toxic mold, fixing issues with the bricks, and so on.  Since then, the lighthouse has hosted a number of famous visitors, the most notable being the Obamas, who received a guided tour in August of 2009 (making Barack Obama the second president, after Calvin Coolidge, to tour the Gay Head Light).  Other famous visitors include comedian, Dennis Miller; Senator Ted Kennedy and his daughter, Caroline Kennedy; singer/songwriter, Carly Simon; and many more.

In mid-2015, the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee worked with the town of Aquinnah to relocate the lighthouse 129 feet from its original location.  Its current location is a safe distance from the eroding cliffs (180 feet), and geologists estimate it won’t be threatened again until the 2160s.

Visiting the Gay Head Light

The Gay Head Light has been open to the public since it opened.  Today, the lighthouse gives guided tours during the summer months (July – October 12th, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., and some Thursday evenings).  Tickets are $5 for adults.  Museum members and children get in free.  To learn more about the Gay Head Light, visit the Martha’s Vineyard Museum website.

If you’re heading this way, give the Sandpiper Rentals website a thorough look.  We offer outstanding property rentals across Martha’s Vineyard.  Whatever you’re looking for, we’ve probably got it.  If you need help with your search, don’t hesitate to send us an email.  We’ll be more than happy to assist you!

Enjoy the Beautiful Views of the West Chop Lighthouse

west chop lighthouse
Photo Credit: hfrankWI/iStock/Thinkstock

There are many sights to see when you come to Martha’s Vineyard. The island’s lighthouses are always popular sightseeing destinations. One of the lighthouses that you should make time to see is West Chop Lighthouse. This landmark is in the town of Tisbury near Vineyard Haven. West Chop Lighthouse needs to be on your list of things to see when you visit Martha’s Vineyard.

About West Chop Lighthouse

West Chop Lighthouse, or West Chop Light Station was established in 1817. Along with East Chop Lighthouse, it marks the entrance to the harbor at Vineyard Haven. Chop is a term that is used to not the entrance to a channel. West Chop is just a couple of miles away from the village of Vineyard Haven. The first rubblestone lighthouse was 25 feet tall. The lighthouse and the accompanying dwelling were built in 1817. Because of beach erosion, the light was moved in 1830 and again in 1846.  Today the tower is made of brick and measures 45 feet tall. The present tower and it’s dwelling were built in 1891.

Where to Go to View West Chop Lighthouse

While West Chop Lighthouse is closed to the public, there are still ways to see it. If you go to West Chop Rd. you can view the light from the street. Another great way to see West Chop Lighthouse is by water. If you take a ferry or boat ride in Vineyard Haven Harbor, you can view the lighthouse on the shore. There are a number of boat tours out of Vineyard Haven, including sailing tours on Witch of Endor Sailing Charters. There is no better way to spend the day than to go out on the water, enjoying the sea breeze and gentle movement of the ocean as you view the island’s landmarks on shore.  It’s a truly special Martha’s Vineyard experience that you don’t want to miss out.

Other Activities Near West Chop Lighthouse

When you’re going to view West Chop Lighthouse you should take advantage of being near Vineyard Haven. There are a number of activities to take part in in Vineyard Haven. Martha’s Vineyard Film Center is in Vineyard Haven and you won’t find a better place on the island to see great films. Also nearby is Tisbury Town Beach, which is ideal for a relaxing stroll as you take in the beautiful views of the harbor.  Or take a tour of the island with Martha’s Vineyard Tours and Excursions, which is based out of Vineyard Haven.

When you’re making plans to view West Chop Lighthouse, don’t forget to make your accommodations with Sandpiper Rentals. Our Martha’s Vineyard vacation rentals are ideal for relaxing and unwinding in between all of the great activities you can participate during your time on the island. Our rental properties are located all over Martha’s Vineyard, so you can choose to stay on your favorite part of the island. Whether you want to be right in town or more isolated, we have the perfect rental for you. Our homes are all unique, yet they all offer comfortable accommodations and luxurious amenities.

Photo: Armstrong White via Flickr

The Gay Head Lighthouse, An Iconic Piece of Martha’s Vineyard History, Is In Danger

Perched on top of the famous clay cliffs in Aquinnah, the Gay Head Lighthouse is in danger of toppling into the sea below if it isn’t moved back within the next year and a half. In a race against time, locals are frantically trying to accumulate the funds to get this historic icon moved to a yet to be decided location.

So why the urgency? To move the Gay Head Lighthouse safely, there needs to be a 30′ circumference around the lighthouse to accommodate the heavy impact of the moving vehicles and machinery. Currently there is only 47′, and that is swifty eroding, according to a geological and engineering study performed 2012.

In order to move the 400 ton beacon the town of Aquinnah is applying for ownership from the US Coast Guard, and scrambling to raise over $3,000,000 for the project. The Save Gay Head Lighthouse Advisory Committee is well underway, hoping to raise 2/3 of the funding from private sources, and 1/3 from public events, as well as public and private grants. They hope to be able to move the Gay Head Lighthouse in late fall of 2014 to one of three spots. The final location will be chosen based on geological factors, and many other factors. If everything goes to plan the actual move should take about 1-2 weeks.


In 1796, thanks in large part to the whaling and shipping industries, Massachusetts State Senator, Peleg Coffin, put in a request to Congress to have a lighthouse installed on Martha’s Vineyard overlooking what is known as “Devils Bridge”, a shallow dangerous passage in the Vineyard Sound. By 1799 the Gay Head Lighthouse was constructed and helped many a sailor on their voyage. Just a short 45 years later, the lighthouse had to be moved back 75’. John Mayhew of Edgartown was in charge of the move, and the total cost at time was $396.75.


Due to weather and erosion, the original octagonal shaped building had to be replaced in 1885, to what is now the iconic brick building we know and love today. At that time, Gay Head was listed as the 9th most important lighthouse in our country. Because of this, and the timing of needing to be replaced it was the first United States lighthouse to receive a Fresnel lens, making the light the most visually powerful lighthouse yet.

In order to differentiate itself from the area’s two other light houses – one at Sankaty Head, and the other at Montauk Point- the Gay Head Lighthouse changed from flashing white to flashing three whites and a red in 1874.

Things remained relatively the same for many years with the lighthouse until 1954. With electricity starting to replace kerosene in the early half of the 20th century, it was only a matter of time until our beloved lighthouse was converted to an electric lamp.

Now we are at the end of a fabulous chapter of history for this iconic lighthouse. Within the next couple of months we will be turning the page to a new era of history for The Gay Head Lighthouse; one that hopefully will last another century.

To help save The Gay Head Lighthouse, please visit www.gayheadlight.org

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