The Edgartown Harbor Light is a historic lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard Island in Edgartown, Massachusetts. It is one of five lighthouses on Martha’s Vineyard and marks the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay.
The first lighthouse built at the Edgartown Harbor entrance was the Edgartown Harbor Light. The need for a lighthouse at this location was prompted by the large number of ships that frequented the port during the late 1700s and early 1800s whaling rise. In 1828, the first lighthouse and a two-story wooden structure that also served as the keeper’s house, was built.
The Great Hurricane of 1938 caused significant damage to the lighthouse, and when the United States Coast Guard took control of the nation’s lighthouses in 1939, they quickly demolished the structure, which would have required major repairs and costly upgrades. The initial plan was to substitute the lighthouse with a steel skeleton tower, but instead a disused 1881 lighthouse on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts was dismantled and barged to Edgartown. The relocated forty-five-foot cast-iron tower was quickly put into service at Edgartown and is still in use today, flashing a red light every six seconds. The lighthouse is surrounded by a beach formed by sand accumulating around the stone causeway that has connected it to the mainland since 1939.
The automated Edgartown Harbor Light was maintained by the United States Coast Guard from 1939 to the early 1980s. Numerous lighthouses around the United States were torn down or marked for destruction as a result of U.S. Coast Guard Congressional funding shortages in the 1970s and early 1980s. This classification was made due to the high cost of maintaining the structures, as well as the fact that the lights were no longer beneficial to vessel traffic. One of these endangered lighthouses was the Edgartown Harbor Light. The Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI) saved the lighthouse by obtaining a 35-year license from the Coast Guard in 1985.
Following the receipt of the lighthouse license, the Institute embarked on a series of events to raise funds that involved the Martha’s Vineyard community. The funds were used to fund a major restoration of the Edgartown Harbor Light. The light’s exterior was restored to its previous white-dressed elegance in 1988, and the broken double-barreled fog horn was removed. The fourth-order Fresnel lens was supplemented with a smaller red plastic lens in 1990, and the light was switched from grid electric power to solar power.
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) declared the Edgartown Harbor Light to be no longer critical to its mission of protecting lives and property at sea in May 2011. The lighthouse was classified as surplus property and it was put up for sale. The Town of Edgartown started the process of acquiring it under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in January 2013, submitting its offer to the government’s General Services Administration. A year later, the transfer process was completed, and the town officially took possession of the lighthouse in January 2014, paying the government the symbolic sum of one dollar.
The lighthouse is open to the public on certain days and can be visited every day. Parking is available on North Water Street, but it is limited. Buses from the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) stop on Church Street in Edgartown. The lighthouse is a 10-minute walk away from this location.
Looking for more great spots to explore in Massachusetts? Check out the GoXplr Massachusetts Map at goxplr.com/map/massachusetts
- Originally constructed: 1828
- Current tower constructed: 1939
- First lit: 1939 (current structure)
- Construction: Granite blocks
- Tower shape: Conical
- Height: 44 feet (13.5 m)
- Focal height: 45 feet (14 m)
- Markings: White with black lantern
- Characteristic: Red light flashing once every 6 seconds (Fl R 6s)
- Range: 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi)
- Status: Active
- NRHP number: 87001465
- Address: 121 N Water St
- Town: Edgartown
- State: Massachusetts
- GPS: Lat 41.39088 Lng -70.50300
- Parking notes: There is street parking along North Water Street. Parking is free, but is limited to two hours. The trail to the lighthouse is located right across from the Harbor View Hotel.
- Parking directions: HERE
- Location directions: HERE