Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
GAY HEAD LIGHT
Location: AQUINNAH (GAY HEAD) CLIFFS, WESTERN END OF MARTHA’S VINEYARD, ENTRANCE TO VINEYARD SOUND, NEAR AQUINNAH, MASSACHUSETTS
Station Established: 1799
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1856
Foundation Materials: UNKNOWN
Construction Materials: BRICK/SANDSTONE
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Markings/Pattern: RED BRICK W/BLACK LANTERN
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: FIRST ORDER FRESNEL
* On November 18, 1799 the first lighthouse at Gay Head went into service. The 47 foot octagonal tower guided traffic by the Gay Head cliffs and the Elizabeth Islands through the Vineyard Sound. Under the water is a natural obstruction called the Devil’s Bridge which makes the passage treacherous.
* In 1838 the lantern and deck were rebuilt. The tower was lowered three feet. Earlier the tower had been lowered by 14 feet for the light to be seen under the fog.
* The tower was in disrepair and dangerously close to edge of the cliffs. In 1854 construction started on a new tower. The new conical tower was 51 feet tall and would house an enormous first order Fresnel lens.
* Gay Head was listed as one of the most important lighthouses in the US. It was also one of the first to receive a Fresnel lens.
* The extreme dampness on the island was responsible for at least three keepers’ deaths. The lighthouse board built new quarters for the keepers on much higher and dryer ground.
* In 1952, the light was automated. The lens is on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society Museum in Edgartown, Massachusetts.
* The tower is open to the public during very specific hours. The light remains an active aid to navigation. The rest of the buildings at the station were destroyed.
Researched and written by Melissa Buckler, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.