Gay Head Light

[photo] Gay Head Light
Photos by Jeremy D'Entremont,
Gay Head Light, also known as Aquinnah Light, is located near the Aquinnah Cliffs on the southwest coast of Martha's Vineyard. The land slopes downward from the cliffs and is constantly eroding both from the action of the sea and from the natural springs within the clay soil. Established in 1799, Gay Head Light Station consisted of a keeper's dwelling and an octagonal tower, which guided mariners past Devil's Bridge rocks, a dangerous ledge reaching out from the cliffs along the south shore of the island, and through the entrance to Vineyard Sound. The lantern and gallery were rebuilt in 1838. In 1852, a Lighthouse Board report listed Gay Head Light as one of the most important lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast. Because of its strategic location, Gay Head Light received one of the first Fresnel lenses in the United States in 1854.

Gay Head Light
Photo by Jeremy D'Entremont,

The current, conical, brick, 51-foot tall tower was constructed to properly house the enormous first-order Fresnel lens in 1856. A new keeper's dwelling was also built at this time. When three consecutive Gay Head Light keepers died the extreme dampness of the keeper's house was blamed. To correct this problem, the Lighthouse Board built a new dwelling on a much higher and drier foundation in 1902. A modern automatic optic replaced the original Fresnel lens in 1952, and the station was unmanned just four years later. The Fresnel lens is now displayed in a replica lantern room on the grounds of the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society in Edgartown, Massachusetts. The U.S. Coast Guard removed the keeper's house and other station buildings, excluding the tower, in 1956. Vineyard Environmental Research Institute leased Gay Head Light from the Coast Guard in 1985, and the license was transferred to the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society in 1994. Gay Head Light Station is an active aid to navigation, and only the light tower remains on the site today.

Gay Head Light is located at the end of Lighthouse Rd. on the westernmost point of land on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and leased to the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, Gay Head Light operates as an active aid to navigation. The Martha's Vineyard Historical Society offers sunset tours of the light station for a small fee on Fridays-Sundays from mid-June to mid-September. For further information visit the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society website or call 508-627-4441.

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