|Cape Poge, MA|
Description: Cape Poge Lighthouse (sometimes also spelled “Cape Pogue”) is situated at the northeast corner of the small island of Chappaquiddick, just east of Martha’s Vineyard. Today, most visitors arrive on Chappaquiddick aboard the On Time, a ferry that links the island to downtown Edgartown. At the beginning of the 19th century, Edgartown was home to a substantial whaling fleet, and the government realized that some kind of navigational aid was needed to help guide ships around Cape Poge and into the harbor at Edgartown.
On January 30th 1801, Congress approved $2,000 for a lighthouse, and four acres of land at Cape Poge were purchased for $36 just a couple of months later. A local contractor named Duncan McBean constructed a thirty-five-foot octagonal wooden tower, as well as a small, two-room keeper’s house. The tower was originally equipped with a spider lamp, but this was replaced in 1812 by an array of oil lamps and reflectors supplied by Winslow Lewis.
Cramped for living space, the Mayhews received some relief when a third room was added to the keeper’s house in 1816. Prior to the addition, the Mayhews only had one door and were often obliged to come and go by way of the windows.
Erosion is a constant issue at the northern tip of Chappaquiddick Island, and in 1825, Keeper Mayhew reported that two acres, or half of the original station, had been lost to the sea. He wrote: “If we are not in danger of falling immediately down the clift, it is very unpleasant, particularly to females to be thus situated in storms when the Sea is beating with such violence as for the spray to fly against and over the House and no other dwelling House within 5 miles for a refuge.” Four additional acres of land were bought, and the keeper’s brother was paid $250 to move the house further inland.
Keeper Mayhew passed away in December of 1834, and before his successor, Lott Norton, could reach the station, the schooner Hudson was lost near the point. It is not known if the light was operating at the time, but one of the passengers from the vessel passed away at the lighthouse.
By 1836, the tower was only forty feet from the edge of a cliff. A stone wall was built under the cliff for protection, but made little difference. When Edward W. Carpender inspected the station in 1838, the 1801 wooden tower was being moved a few yards back from the cliff edge. Carpender noted that the light was exceedingly useful as a guide to an immense number of vessels that called at Edgartown Harbor, but that cost-savings could be achieved by discontinuing the upper array of five lamps, and using just the lower six lamps, which could be rearranged to exhibit their light over a smaller arc, as the light was not necessary at all points of the compass.
Both keepers and inspectors had long noted that the tower and dwelling at Cape Poge were wearing away, and in July of 1844 Winslow Lewis finished a new tower that was connected to the keeper's dwelling by an enclosed walkway. In 1857 the tower’s lamps and reflectors were replaced with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, and a new lantern room was installed.
A new 35-foot wooden tower was built in 1893, forty feet inland from the previous one. In one day, the lantern from the old tower, which was threatened by the sea, was inched across thirty-five foot high staging to the new tower, where it was installed in time to the light the beacon that evening.
The 1893 tower was officially a temporary structure, but it still stands today, although it has been moved four times: once in 1907 when it was moved 50 feet, again in 1922 when it was moved 95 feet inland, yet again in 1960 with a move of 150 feet, and finally in 1987, when it was moved 500 feet inland to avoid the eroding shore. For the 1987 move, the tower was relocated using a U.S. Army helicopter, while the lantern was moved separately.
In 1898 the light’s characteristic was changed from fixed white to flashing white and red due to complaints that the lighthouse’s beacon was confused with the light from the Cross Rip Lightship. As the flashing characteristic required the keeper to wind a clockwork mechanism every five or six hours, an assistant keeper was once again assigned to Cape Poge starting in 1900.
The Cape Poge Lighthouse was automated in 1943 when Joseph Dubois was keeper, but the tower remains an active aid to navigation. The keeper’s house, which was home to a Coast Guard shore patrol during World War II, was sold to a local resident in 1954 and torn down for the lumber. The Fresnel lens has been replaced by a solar-powered 300mm lens, which shows a flashing white light every six seconds.
The lighthouse now stands on land owned by the Trustees of Reservations. While the Coast Guard still owns the lighthouse and cares for the optic, the Trustees of Reservations have been maintaining the tower since 1994. On October 6, 1997, the lantern room was removed by helicopter to Falmouth, from where it was trucked to New Bedford so it could be sandblasted, painted, and outfitted with new glass. The lantern room was returned to the lighthouse just over two months later, on December 16. The Trustees of Reservations held a 200th birthday celebration at the lighthouse in 2001.
Located on the northeastern tip of Chappaquiddick Island in the Cape
Poge Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by The Trustees of Reservations. Grounds open, tower open during tours.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by The Trustees of Reservations. Grounds open, tower open during tours.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
The Cape Poge Lighthouse tour gives you the opportunity to climb the tower and view some historic photographs and documents housed therein. As you drive along the cape in your oversand vehicle, you will likely learn about the Rosa rugosa, a rose native to eastern Asia that was likely introduce to the island by returning whalers, and have the chance to see birds such as oystercatchers, terns, and gulls....oh, and there is the famous bridge as well.
See our List of Lighthouses in Massachusetts
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.