The Gay Head Light is a special place to our family. We have been spending a month each summer in Aquinnah and make numerous trips to the lighthouse each year. Our kids love to go and picnic on the lawn and they adore climb up the winding stairs to look down at us and out across the Vineyard Sound.
The Lighthouse is a place of peace and beauty that makes us all slow down, breathe and enjoy the red clay cliffs, the sound of the waves, and the whisper of the breezes.
We often joke that someday, one of the girls will get married there- but this of course is only possible if the Lighthouse can be saved and moved. This historic, graceful building is an iconic part of the vineyard landscape and the Aquinnah vistas. My hope is that the light shines on!
Katya and Jennifer Price Salkever
Source: National Archives
A shot of the 1856 lighthouse and 1902 keeper’s house.
I want to share what the Gay Head Lighthouse means to our family.
We have spent the last 14 years each summer on the Vineyard and have a house in Gay Head. Going to the Lighthouse is one of our favorite activities and every summer we make many trips to visit and enjoy it. The Lighthouse and surrounding land is a magical place overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It sits on top of 100+ feet of clay cliffs. Over the years erosion has set in and it is in peril of falling into the ocean.
Our visits to the Lighthouse and “the cliffs” include:
Climbing up the lighthouse, learning about the history of the lighthouse, and seeing the lantern that warns ships about the rocks near the cliffs;
Packing a picnic and lunching with our children and grandchildren at the base of the lighthouse
Enjoying the spectacular sunset
Taking friends to see the lighthouse
Eating breakfast at The Cliffs Restaurant near the Lighthouse – the blue corn waffles get two thumbs up.
Bringing the dogs for a lighthouse walk.
And one year we even volunteered as tour guides at The Lighthouse.
Everyone who visits the Vineyard should take the opportunity to visit our spectacular light house. It would be a tragedy if we lost the Gay Head Lighthouse.
– Mary Salkever
Our one and only trip to the Vineyard was a wonderful experience from start to finish. Many times we had visited the Cape, but the Vineyard was uniquely different! Among our treasured memories was enjoying an early morning cup of coffee at the Lighthouse, while enjoying the marvelous view. A work colleague of mine had a summer home there, and he invited me to stop and see him. He said he lived close to the Lighthouse, “so you can’t miss it.” I hope the Lighthouse can be preserved, because it would truly be a loss for anyone to miss seeing it.
The Gay Head Lighthouse isn’t just a Martha’s Vineyard treasure – it’s a beacon to the past and future of our New England & National heritage and history. Listed this year as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places it resides dangerously less than 50 feet from the eroding cliff.
The Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee is working to save this iconic structure by moving and restoring it, but this effort will be costly: the fundraising goal is $3,000,000. Three safe places to move it have been identified, which needs to be done in the next few years or the window of opportunity will close. Depending on the site, the distance the lighthouse would need to be moved ranges from 130 feet to 600 feet.
For 214 years the light has safely guided mariners and fishermen from all over the globe. It was President John Adams who commissioned the building of the original wooden lighthouse in 1799. In 1856 the wooden structure was replaced by the brick structure we know today. It would be a tragic loss and horrible irony to see this piece of American history disappear into the sea after centuries of valiantly protecting so many citizens from it.
– Barry Pailet
Over the last 13 years, we have made many visits to the Gay Head Lighthouse with our grand-children and with other visitors and friends. The combination of the beauty of the lighthouse and its site, the spectacular views that it offers across Vineyard Sound, and the rich and fascinating maritime history in which it has figured make it a national treasure. There is no better venue for letting kids (of all ages!) learn about the maritime history of Massachusetts, as well as the history of the original migrants from Europe and their cooperative relationships with the Wampanoag natives. A visit to the lighthouse makes that past come alive.
And a recent visit shows how precarious the perch of the lighthouse has become. We have contributed to help preserve and protect the lighthouse in this perilous time and we hope you will too!
New England is steeped in history and our reputation for historic preservation is noteworthy though we don’t always make the right choices when faced with decisions such as the one that the Aquinnah Lighthouse presents. Yes, technology can often carry out the the functions of products from our historic past by more cost effective and efficient means but the beauty, history and genius of times past is erased and never to be regained when we opt for the replacement option – preservation of The Aquinnah Lighthouse is a perfect example. Let us know how we can contribute to the effort to move the lighthouse and we’ll happily contribute.
Jill Herold & Jim McSherry of Cambridge MA