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Edgartown Harbor Light
The Martha’s Vineyard Museum is privileged to be the steward of two of the Island’s lighthouses, including the Edgartown Harbor Light. Beyond its important functional role as an aid to navigation, this structure also offers visitors spectacular views of Edgartown Harbor, Chappaquiddick, and Cape Cod.
To learn more about the Lighthouse, check out our virtual exhibit: Treasured Beacon: The Edgartown Lighthouse.
Gay Head Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built on Martha’s Vineyard and one of the first in the U.S. to receive a first order Fresnel lens in 1856. Many men in the Aquinnah community, including members of the Wampanoag tribe, worked at the lighthouse. Standing atop the National Natural Landmark Gay Head Cliffs, the lighthouse serves as a beacon to Wampanoag tribal heritage and is the only lighthouse with a history of Native American Lighthouse keepers.
The Lighthouse is officially open for the 2023 season! Through the month of June, the Gay Head Light will be open. Friday-Monday. 10:00am-4:00pm.
The East Chop Light was built in 1878 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. In the early 1800s the location was occupied by a semaphore station - thus the origin of the name "Telegraph Hill." Circa 1869 a marine merchant named Captain Silas Daggett constructed a privately owned lighthouse on the property. To pay for construction and maintenance, Daggett collected fees from local merchants, maritime insurance agencies, and ship owners who benefited from the light as an aid-to-navigation. Daggett's 1869 lighthouse was the last of the five lighthouses to be constructed on Martha's Vineyard. The oil-fired East Chop Light burned down in 1871. The light was rebuilt by Daggett in 1872 as a house with a protruding lantern room - similar in concept to the first Edgartown Harbor Light. Daggett's new East Chop Light produced a red signal and had three 21-inch reflectors fueled by kerosene lamps. In 1875, the United States Congress purchased the property for $6,000 and removed the lighthouse and other buildings constructed by Daggett. In 1878 the present day cast-iron conical tower with a fourth-order Fresnel lens was constructed along with an adjacent two-story gabled roof keeper's house. The lighthouse was originally painted white, but was repainted as a brown-red color in the 1880s. The brown-red color was maintained until 1988, when the light was painted white by Vineyard Environmental Research, Institute (VERI). Many people in the East Chop community and elsewhere still harbor fond memories of their "Chocolate Lighthouse." In 1933 the East Chop Light was automated. At the time, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) offered to rent the Keeper's dwelling to longtime keeper, George Walter Purdy. Purdy, who had one arm, served as the East Chop Light's principal keeper for thirty-two years. Purdy refused the offer, and shortly afterwards, the keeper's dwelling, fuel oil shed, and other outbuildings were torn down. Without a keeper on the lighthouse grounds, the USCG closed the East Chop Light to public access.
The two peninsulas known as West Chop and East Chop define the harbor at Vineyard Haven, on the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard. Vineyard Haven was formerly known as Holmes Hole and was one of the earliest settlements on the island. The residents of Holmes Hole felt a bit neglected when a lighthouse was built on Cape Poge in 1801 to guide vessels into the harbor at Edgartown even though there was more ship traffic at Holmes Hole. They eventually appealed to their congressman, John Reed, for a lighthouse to mark their harbor, and on March 3, 1817, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse “on the west chop of Holmes’ Hole Harbor.”
West Chop Lighthouse and dwelling built in 1847
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast GuardFour acres of land for the lighthouse were purchased at a cost of $225 from Abijah and Mary Luce of Boston, and Duncan McBean was employed to construct a twenty-five-foot-tall rubblestone tower and an accompanying stone dwelling measuring twenty by thirty-four feet. Captain James Shaw West, a long-time resident of Holmes Hole, was hired to be the first keeper of the light, which went into service on October 5, 1817. Keeper West and his wife Charlotte were the parents of nine children when they moved into the lighthouse, though one child had already passed away. Two more children were born to the Wests while they lived at the lighthouse.
Lieutenant Edward W. Carpender visited West Chop Lighthouse while James West was still keeper and issued the following report, dated November 1, 1838, that highly praises the keepers work:
Formed thousands of years ago by offshore currents, the barrier beach on Chappaquiddick Island’s eastern edge extends for seven miles from Wasque Point past the Cape Poge Lighthouse to the Gut. Powerful currents push through and flush Cape Poge Bay with oxygen-rich water that attracts striped bass, bluefish, bonito, and albacore, while tidal waters support extensive salt marshes around Poucha Pond.
Cape Poge elbow is home to a gull rookery and nests of piping plovers, least terns, and oystercatchers, while The Cedars offers a glimpse of century-old, low-growing eastern red cedars sculpted by salt spray and wind.
Ride a rumbling over-sand vehicle to tour and explore Cape Poge’s diverse upland, marine habitats and world-renowned fishing spots, and a lighthouse with origins dating to 1801, that used to guide ships through the shoal waters and shallows of Muskeget Channel into Edgartown Harbor.
For a different view, paddle through Poucha Pond or amble along an easily accessible two-mile walk at Wasque Beach Uplands.
Gatehouse Hours: 9AM-5PM
Free to pedestrians
Admission paid at Mytoi or Wasque provides visitor access to all three Chappaquiddick properties for that day.
Learn more about OSV permits and buy a permit.
Open year-round, daily, 24 hours (10PM to 5AM – fishing access only).