Before the Cape Cod Canal opened in 1914, Martha’s Vineyard and its surrounding waterways made up one of the busiest sea commerce areas in the world. Ships of all sizes battled ever-changing tides and underwater obstacles to carry goods to and from New England. Because of its unique geography, the Island became home to some of the U.S.’s first lighthouses, with construction authorized by the likes of John Quincy Adams, Alexander Hamilton and company. Five Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses still stand today, doubling as automated navigation signals and popular spots for visitors.
Just a 5-10 minute stroll down North Water Street from The Square and the center of Edgartown, Edgartown Lighthouse marks the entrance point to the harbor here in between Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick. It was originally built on a manmade island, though sand has long since filled in, creating a popular beach peninsula that protrudes from the Island. The staircase inside is open to visitors at certain times thanks to renovations in 2007. Edgartown Lighthouse is also available for private rentals and is a popular Martha’s Vineyard wedding venue.
Gay Head Lighthouse
This red brick structure atop rusty clay bluffs is the Island’s poster child. Aquinnah is one of the most naturally scenic spots in the nation, though its waters are among the most treacherous. An underwater ledge here, aptly named Devil’s Bridge, caused a significant number of historic shipwrecks. Those gorgeous cliffs are also constantly receding, too — Gay Head Lighthouse made national news in the spring of 2015 when it had to be moved 135 feet back from its previous position. Aquinnah’s powerful fresnel lens, a technological marvel in 1856, is currently on display at the MV Historical Society in Edgartown.
West Chop Lighthouse
West Chop is the first Martha’s Vineyard lighthouse you see from the Woods Hole ferry to either Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs. Built in 1817, it marks the western edge of the entrance to Vineyard Haven Harbor. Though the surrounding land is privately owned, West Chop still makes for a good photo opportunity either from the boat or from land nearby.
East Chop Lighthouse
If you come down to the front desk and ask us where to catch a sunset (please do!), we’ll tell you that you don’t necessarily have to go all the way to Menemsha for a spectacular view. East Chop Lighthouse, which marks the eastern tip of Vineyard Haven Harbor, is a great spot. It’s open seasonally on Sunday evenings around sunset, but even if you can’t go in the lighthouse, you’ll find a great view nearby. If your timing is just right, you can stop here and watch the sunset on your way to the Vineyard Haven ferry at the tail end of your visit.
This Martha’s Vineyard lighthouse is tough to get to, but if you’re up for an adventure, it’s worth it. Cape Poge (rhymes with “rogue”) sticks out of the sand on the northern tip of Chappaquiddick and has been washed away by the sea at least three times since its initial construction in 1801. The Trustees of Reservations run tours here, including transportation across more than three miles of bog that separate it from the rest of civilization.
Guests at our Edgartown hotel can always come to the front desk for more information about Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses. For further reading, we recommend this article on mvy.com and “Illuminating Lighthouses” from Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.
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