Posted by: coastlinesproject | December 10, 2012

Marth’a Vineyard; the Gay Head lighthouse in Aquinnah to be moved.

I meant to send this along earlier, but it got at the bottom of my digital pile of to-do’s. Another iconic Cape and Islands historic structure – lighthouse threatened by erosion.  Sankaty Head Light, Highland Light, The Three Sisters (Nauset Light) and Chatham Light to name a few that have had to be moved back to save them from tumbling over the bluff they were positioned upon into the sea.


Pre 1902 picture of Gay Head Light and the brick keeper’s house, replaced in 1902 with a wooden house. Picture is circa 1890.
“12392.  (hand colored photograph) Gay Head Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. c.1890. Stunning hand colored photograph captures beautifully a view rarely seen of the handsome Gay Head Lighthouse with brick keeper’s dwelling, which stands in one of the most picturesque locations in New England, atop the 130-foot multicolored clay cliffs at the western shore of Martha’s Vineyard. The brick lighthouse tower and keeper’s house were constructed in 1854-1856. Due to the extreme dampness of the keeper’s house, the 1856 brick keeper’s house was torn down and replaced by a wooden dwelling in 1902, thus dating this view before 1902. Note the buildings and the superb detail in this rare large view. Interesting too are the two ox-carts and visitors posing for the camera. Large image measures 7 ½” x 9” on 13 ½” x 15” mount. Great piece, will be stunning framed. Clean, clear, only light toning to mount.”
The above from Lighthouse Antiques




“Not If, But When Regarding Relocation Of Gay Head Light | The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News

Due to steady and increasing erosion at the Gay Head Cliffs, the Gay Head Light will need to be moved in the next one to three years and could cost as much as $3 million to relocate, the Aquinnah board of selectmen learned this week.

At the board’s weekly meeting on Tuesday, Martha’s Vineyard Museum director David Nathans said the move of the historic lighthouse is only a matter of time.

“We’ve been watching the erosion or slumping… and it’s just a matter of time and mother nature before it will create a tremendous hazard to the continued standing of that lighthouse,” Mr. Nathans said.

The discussion of the pending move comes just two weeks after the selectmen learned the U.S. Coast Guard, which currently owns the building, would likely look for new owners sometime in the next two years. The museum has leased the lighthouse from the Coast Guard since 1994, and has said it will work with the town and interested parties to secure that the building stays within town ownership.

After the original 1799 wooden Gay Head Light fell into disrepair, a new brick structure was built in 1856 where it remains today. The light was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

The museum consulted with International Chimney Corporation of Buffalo, New York to help in the impending move, Mr. Nathans said. The company, which was responsible for moving the Sankaty Head Light on Nantucket, visited the site this summer.

“The reason for getting International Chimney was for them to have their eyes on the site to determine if it was a feasible thing to do,” lighthouse keeper Richard Skidmore said. “In the proposal they said it’s something that has to be attended to, nothing can be waited on. There’s another 12 or 15 feet we could lose and that would get us to the limit.”

A location is still being determined but several options are being considered in the direct vicinity. Regardless of the new location, the lighthouse will likely have to be placed on a pedestal to ensure that the light can be seen over the cliffs.

The museum is also looking into creating a barricade within the soil between the lighthouse and the cliff “that would significantly slow what’s happening,” Mr. Nathans said.

Last year voters approved monies for a three-year study to better understand the rate of erosion at the cliffs, “but we may need to take action before that is finished,” Mr. Nathans said.

The first round of results taken this past summer will not be available until next summer.

Funding sources for the move could include the federal government, state entities, foundations and private individuals, Mr. Nathans said after the meeting. “All of it should be on the table.” Mr. Nathans said he expects the Coast Guard to be “helpful in the process” but “I don’t think they have deep pockets.”

“No one is necessarily responsible for moving it,” he continued. “It is owned by the Coast Guard and under the current situation you would think the owner would have the most responsibility. I think they will be a participant but it seemed clear that the Coast Guard is happy to have local organizations who care about it to help in this process, and that’s why I think they suggested in the next year or two the ownership to transfer. It’s easier to imagine the entities that own it to take more responsibility.”

International Chimney Corporation made a report with several recommendations to the museum after their summer visit, Mr. Nathans said. A comprehensive study of the topography of the potential new locations will need to be conducted and “how they might need to prepare staging it” is needed first. The report is not being made public.

But before the lighthouse is moved, a full restoration is needed to stabilize the building.

A 2004 engineering study showed the lighthouse needed $500,000 worth of repairs. Minor work, including repairing of areas that were getting weaker, was done last year with help from community preservation act funds, “but I think it was a bandaid rather than a total repair,” Mr. Nathans said. A full restoration is needed before the relocation “so it could be moved and not crumble.”

The Aquinnah selectmen plan to advertise for a Gay Head Light committee in the coming weeks to address the ownership transfer and relocation of the lighthouse.”

More recent CCT story,

“Iconic Vineyard lighthouse in danger

By Heather Wysocki
December 09, 2012 – 2:00 AM

AQUINNAH — In the three centuries it has stood above the iconic cliffs, the Gay Head Light has saved hundreds of ships from the treacherous stretch of rocks known as the Devil’s Bridge.

Now, the eroding cliffs are getting closer and closer to the 1856 brick tower, and it’s in need of saving.

“We don’t have a lot of time to deal with this,” David Nathans, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, said.Since 1993, the museum has leased the Gay Head, Edgartown and East Chop lighthouses from the Coast Guard.And over those years, museum officials have watched as the Gay Head cliffs have slowly eroded, making the light’s future uncertain.

Gay Head Light’s history is deeply entwined with the history of the island.

The lighthouse was the first on the island. By the mid-1850s, it was America’s busiest in terms of traffic along the coast because of its location along the Boston-New York trade route, Craig Dripps, chairman of the museum’s lighthouse committee, said.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

About a year ago, as the erosion issue became more dire, museum officials began discussing the building’s future with the Coast Guard, particularly transferring ownership to a public entity such as the town of Aquinnah, Nathans said. In its plan, the museum would continue to maintain the light.

Coast Guard officials did not return messages from the Times this week.

Under the National Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, lighthouses can be declared excess and given to a government agency or nonprofit.

The Coast Guard has not officially declared the Gay Head Light surplus. Neither has it transferred the building to the federal General Services Administration, as would be required, Patrick Sclafani, spokesman for the GSA’s New England office, said.

This summer, the Edgartown lighthouse was made available by the GSA, and the town of Edgartown now has a pending application to take it over. “It’s a model that makes some sense for Gay Head, too,” Nathans said.
But the famed Gay Head cliffs won’t allow the process to wait much longer.

“You can see how chunks of land have just skidded down the cliffs,” Betsey Mayhew, the museum’s finance and lighthouse operations director, said on a recent visit to the light.

postcard view

On a muggy summer’s day, the breeze coming over the Gay Head cliffs is welcome, but on this December morning, there was a significant temperature drop between Vineyard Haven and Aquinnah.

From the lighthouse’s top floor, about 40 feet in the air, there is a postcard-perfect view of the nearly turquoise waters of Vineyard Sound.

The 360-degree view from the lighthouse gives a glimpse of many of the island’s homes, hidden from view at ground level by centuries-old trees.

To the left is the island known as Nomans Land. At one point, Dripps said pointing to the barren area, the island was divided in half — one side, a bird sanctuary, and the other, a strafing area for practicing war pilots.

Straight ahead, it’s easy to see the dramatic changes the Gay Head cliffs have gone through, even in just the past few years.

A fence that once was on the ruddy-colored bluffs now lies in a crater 20 feet away.

Farther away, a World War II observation box sits on the shore below, waves lapping at it. During his childhood, the box was at the top of the cliffs, Dripps said.

A geologist is in the first year of a three-year erosion study of the cliffs. He has estimated that over the long term, the cliffs have lost an average of 1 to 2 feet per year, lighthouse keeper Richard Skidmore said.

About 50 feet separate the lighthouse from the edge of the cliffs.

The company that would move the structure, International Chimney Corp., needs there to be a 40-foot perimeter surrounding the light to do the job. With the current rate of erosion, that doesn’t leave much time to make a decision.

“So you say there’s 50 feet, but really you only have 10,” Nathans said.

cost of restoration

Along with a move, the lighthouse also needs heavy restoration work.

The total cost could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Nathans said.

Other Cape and Islands lighthouses have been saved from the threat of erosion, including Highland Light in North Truro, which was rolled 450 feet back from a cliff in 1996 by International Chimney.

The move took 18 days and cost $1.5 million.

Fundraising for the Gay Head move and restoration would need to be done in tandem with transfer of ownership, Mayhew said.

Even now, the lighthouse is an important part of the Vineyard’s modern industry: tourism.

In the summer of 2012, the first year the museum opened Gay Head Light seven days a week, it had 20,000 visitors, Mayhew said.

Mayhew and others hope the lighthouse’s history and popularity will lead island residents to embrace the transfer and help the museum raise money for its move and restoration.

“It’s a community icon,” she said. “I think we hope that it’s a community effort.””

Read more in; Storm Surge; A Coastal Village Battles the Atlantic, Just Seconds From the Ocean; Coastal Living in the wake of Katrina and Beach Wars; 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach. See Strawberry Hill, UPNE, and Schiffer book tabs at the top of this page.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: