|Edgartown Harbor, MA|
Description: The first European settlement on Martha’s Vineyard was established in 1642 at the eastern end of the island and given the name of Great Harbor by Thomas Mayhew, one of its founders. In 1671, the name of the town was officially changed to Edgartown, most likely christened as such after Edgar, Duke of Cambridge, a son of the future King James II of England. Edgar had actually passed away a month before the name change, but word of this had not reached the colonies.
On May 23, 1828, Congress approved $5,500 for “building a pier and light-house on the Point of Flats, at the entrance to Edgartown Harbor.” That first lighthouse was a two-story dwelling with a side-gabled roof atop which was centered the lantern room. The structure was erected by a Mr. Bowker on wooden pilings out in the water, requiring its first keeper, Jeremiah Pease, to row a short distance to get to the tower. In 1830 a wooden walkway was built at a cost of $2,500 to connect the lighthouse to the shore.
Keeper Pease became part of a minor scandal when a local paper claimed that the lighthouse had become “a rendezvous for all kinds of dissipating.” Apparently a young man boarding with the keeper was the cause of the allegations, and Pease managed to reclaim his reputation and continued as keeper for two separate periods of thirteen and six years (1828-1841 and 1843-1849). Before the Lighthouse Board was formed in 1852, political patronage often ruled lighthouse appointments, and as a Democrat, Pease was replaced twice when the Whig Party was in power.
After a visit to the Edgartown Lighthouse in 1838, Lt. Edward W. Carpender, wrote the following, “Cape Poge light, 4 miles outside, is the guide to the harbor, so that the light on the breakwater requires to be of very little magnitude; yet I found the same number of lamps burning here as in the most exposed situations in the district. It is true only 7 of the 10 were front the sea, the other 3 being so placed as to reflect their light, to no useful purpose, towards the shore. I recommend the suppression of 6 of these lamps, and the compact arrangement of the remaining 4 to suit the approach to the breakwater. … It cannot be long before Government will have to reconstruct this breakwater and light-house, as the worms have made great havoc with them, and the sea threatens them, particularly the latter, with total destruction.”
The following report on that state of Edgartown Harbor was made in 1842.
Edgartown is the only safe one, accessible at low water, in the Vineyard sound; and this harbor will in a few years be so filled up as to become useless, unless some measures are taken to stop the present accumulation of shallow ground. A breakwater, of 1,200 feet in length, is required to keep sand and silt from washing into the harbor.
To preserve the harbor, a stone breakwater topped by a wooden walkway was constructed in 1847 at a cost of $4,700. A fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the old lamps and reflectors in the lantern room in 1856. The keeper’s house and breakwater were both repaired a number of times, and a storage shed, oil house, and fog bell were all added between 1885 and 1896.
By the time Keeper Henry L. Thomas transferred to the lighthouse in 1931 after twelve years of service at Cape Poge, the dwelling was in tolerable shape. A reporter who paid a visit to the keeper and his family in 1934 included the following in a newspaper article describing the family’s living conditions. “Their lighthouse home has practically all the conveniences that go to make the modern home comfortable except for electricity. As the lighthouse is located a quarter of a mile out from shore it has never been wired for electricity, although they have a radio, running water, and a modern heating plant.”
The Great Hurricane of 1938 inflicted significant damage to the lighthouse, and upon taking control of the nation’s lighthouses in 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard quickly tore down the building, which would have required costly expenditures for repairs and modernization. The original plan was to replace the lighthouse with a steel skeleton tower, but instead a disused 1881 lighthouse from Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts was dismantled and barged, minus its brick lining, to Edgartown. The relocated 45-foot cast-iron tower was soon in service, showing an automated flashing red light every six seconds, and remains an active aid to navigation.
Following the dedication ceremony held for the memorial on July 14, 2001, Dick Sherman, whose own son is memorialized on a cobblestone, circled the tower in his Korean War-era sightseeing plane, a tradition he continued for several years afterwards at the annual “Ceremony of Remembrance” held at the Edgartown Lighthouse.
The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society received funds from the Town of Edgartown in 2007 to install a spiral staircase and new windows in the lighthouse. The staircase allowed the lighthouse, which is now easily accessible from Edgartown, to be opened to the public for climbing for the first time.
On May 24, 2012, Edgartown Lighthouse was made available under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 to eligible federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, and community development organizations for educational, recreational, cultural, or historic preservation purposes. Interested entities were given sixty days to submit a letter of interest expressing their desire to submit an application for ownership.
Located in Edgartown, not far from the "On Time" Ferry to Chappaquiddick. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society. Grounds open, tower open in season.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society. Grounds open, tower open in season.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
Edgartown Lighthouse can be see in the background of a couple of scenes in the 1975 movie "Jaws." It first appears when Chief Brody and the mayor are aboard the On Time Ferry discussing beach closures, then again when the tiger shark is hung up for display. The Gay Head Lighthouse also shows up twice in the film and is located opposite a giant billboard that reads "Amity Island Welcomes You." There is a distant shot of a lighthouse during the closing credits, but I'm not sure which lighthouse it is.
See our List of Lighthouses in Massachusetts
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.