Edgartown, Massachusetts

Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard island has served as a faithful guardian, marking the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay since 1828.

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Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse: Guiding Ships to Safety on Martha's Vineyard

Nestled on Martha's Vineyard Island in Edgartown, Massachusetts, the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse has served as a faithful guardian, marking the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay. It stands as a testament to the island's maritime history and the vital role lighthouses played in safeguarding seafarers.

A Whaling Era Necessity

The genesis of the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse can be traced back to the bustling maritime activity of the late 1700s and early 1800s when whaling was at its zenith. The increasing number of ships frequenting the port necessitated a guiding light. In response, in 1828, the first lighthouse emerged, accompanied by a two-story wooden structure that served as both the lighthouse and the keeper's house.

Storms and Relocation

The Great Hurricane of 1938 wreaked havoc on the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse, prompting its assessment for repair and modernization. However, the United States Coast Guard, which assumed control of the nation's lighthouses in 1939, decided that the lighthouse was beyond repair and opted for demolition. The initial plan was to replace it with a steel skeleton tower. Surprisingly, a different solution emerged. The disused 1881 lighthouse on Crane's Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was carefully dismantled and transported to Edgartown. This relocated 45-foot cast-iron tower was promptly pressed into service at Edgartown, where it still stands today, casting a red light every six seconds. Over time, sand accumulated around the stone causeway that connected it to the mainland, forming a beach around the lighthouse.

Preservation Amidst Challenges

In the early 1980s, the U.S. Coast Guard faced budget constraints that led to the decommissioning and demolition of many lighthouses. The Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse was among those endangered, as the high costs of maintenance and changing navigational needs made it seem obsolete. The Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI) stepped in, obtaining a 35-year license from the Coast Guard in 1985 to save the lighthouse.

Community Restoration Efforts

To secure the lighthouse's future, VERI rallied the Martha's Vineyard community. Funds were raised to support a substantial restoration of the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse. The exterior was meticulously restored to its pristine white appearance in 1988, and the broken double-barreled fog horn was removed. In 1990, the fourth-order Fresnel lens was complemented with a smaller red plastic lens, and the light transitioned from grid electric power to solar power. The new lens emits a flashing red light every six seconds, with a range of 5 nautical miles.

A Place in History

In recognition of its historical significance, the Edgartown Harbor Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 15, 1987. This distinction highlights its pivotal role in maritime history and architectural significance. The National Park Service assigned the lighthouse the reference number 87001465.

Ownership Changes and Public Access

In May 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard declared the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse as no longer critical to its mission. Classified as surplus property, it was put up for sale. The Town of Edgartown took steps to acquire it under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2013, eventually taking possession in 2014 for a symbolic sum of one dollar. The lighthouse now finds its home with the Martha's Vineyard Museum.

A Welcoming Destination

Today, the land around the Edgartown Harbor Light is open to the public daily. Limited parking is available on North Water Street, with Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) buses stopping on Church Street in Edgartown, a short 10-minute walk away from the lighthouse. Tours of the tower are offered throughout the year, primarily during the summer months, with a fee of $5 for adults and free admission for children under 12. These tours are organized by the Martha's Vineyard Museum, and members of the museum enjoy free admission.

Location Features

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121 North Water Street, Edgartown, Massachusetts

GPS Coordinates:
41.390859, -70.503035
Directions to location:
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Directions to parking area:
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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.


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