In 1828, a lighthouse was constructed to mark the entrance to Edgartown Harbor.
The light was built to support the booming whaling industry. $5500 was
appropriated for the light, and a small plot of beach purchased for
$80 from Seth Vincent. The light was constructed by Winslow Lewis.
It was a two-story structure with a light on the roof.
The new light was built offshore on pilings, requiring the keeper
to travel to and from the light by rowboat. A causeway linking
the light to shore was not built until 1830. The causeway was dubbed
"Bridge of Sighs" since whalers often strolled there with wives or girlfriends
prior to heading out to sea.
Edward Carpender inspected the light in 1838, and reported "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 wooden walkway was in fact severely damaged by storms in 1830 and 1836,
and a stone breakwater was eventually built by 1850. The wooden piles required
the construction of a surrounding stone pier for support. By 1843, I.W.P.
Lewis reported that the lighthouse was already in a state of decay.
Despite these reports, the 1828 structure continued to serve for 110 years.
A fourth-order lens was installed in 1856. Extensive repairs were reported
in the 1860's and 1890's. An oil house was added in 1897.
Repairs to the wooden portion of the walkway was an annual task.
The keeper's position at Edgartown was representative of many lighthouses
prior to the formation of the Lighthouse Board. The job was a political
appointment, and often changed hands when a new president was elected.
Jeremiah Pease, a Democrat, served as keeper from 1828 until 1841,
when he was replaced by Sylvanus Crocker, a Whig. When the Democrats
came back into power in 1849, Pease took over his old job, only to
lose it to Crocker again in 1853.
In 1938, the government announced plans to replace the lighthouse with a skeleton
tower. On Septembr 21, 1938, a hurricane further damaged the already
deteriorating structure. When the Coast Guard took over management of
US lighthouses in 1939, they razed the old station. Rather than build a
skeleton tower, they moved the
Ipswitch tower to Edgartown. Only the steel tower was moved. There was
no interior brick nor spiral staircase, which made transporting heavy objects
up the straight ladder treacherous at best.
In 1985 responsibility for maintaining the tower was given to the
Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI).
In 1990 a solar-powered modern optic was installed.
In 1994, responsibility was transferred to the Dukes County
Historical Society (now the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society).
At the base of the Edgartown Lighthouse is the Children's Memorial.
The memorial was conceived by Rick Harrington, whose 16-year old
son died in an automobile accident in 1996.
The base of the light is surrounded by 3500 cobblestones. 2000
cobblestones are large enough to hold a child's name. As of
2007, over 300 are inscribed with the names of children from
Martha's Vineyard and elsewhere.
In 2007, the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society received funding
from the town of Edgartown to perform a major restoration.
The exterior was painted, windows restored, and a spiral staircase
installed to eventually allow the lighthouse to be opened for tours.
Lighthouses of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket - Their History and Lore, Clark pp. 183-187
The Lighthouses of New England, Snow pp. 294-295
The Lighthouses of Massachusetts, D'Entremont pp. 91-95
Massachusetts Lighthouses - A Pictorial Guide, Thompson pp. 96-97
Lighthouses and Life Saving Stations Along the Massachusetts Coast, Claflin pp. 116
New England Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones pp. 76-77
Lighthouses of Massachusetts, Roberts and Jones p. 72
The Lighthouse Companion - Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, Rezendes pp. 48-49