Community Celebration to Mark the Re-Lighting on Tuesday, Aug. 11
July 29, 2015 – Members of the Save the Gay Head Light House Committee announced today that there will be a celebration of the re-lighting of the 160 -year-old light house in the Aquinnah Circle on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The re-lighting will end the longest period of darkness in the history of the iconic beacon and is the culmination of an island-wide effort to save it in a successful campaign that spanned several years.
The celebration will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will include refreshments provided by local food vendors and live music performances from island musicians including The Black Brook Singers, Good Night Louise and Isaac Taylor, singing “Red Queen,” an original homage to the Light.
The light house has been dark since April 16 when it was turned off in preparation for its move, 130 feet from the edge of the Gay Head Cliffs. The move was completed on May 30, 2015 after committee members successfully raised more than $3 million to fund the effort. Fund raising is continuing to address unanticipated environmental expenses.
The re-lighting will occur promptly at 6 p.m. and island residents and guests are invited to enjoy the celebration until 8 p.m., Aquinnah time. Free parking will be available in the Beach Parking Lot and the western end of the Circle.
The Gay Head Lighthouse, a Martha’s Vineyard treasure and one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2013, was 46 feet (Aug 2013) from an eroding cliff, and geological experts recommended it should be moved before the area around became too unstable to safely do so. The Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee worked to save this iconic structure and its working navigational beacon, which has stood at the picturesque cliffs of the westernmost tip of the island since 1799 and was replaced with the current brick lighthouse in 1854. The committee’s objective was to move and restore the Gay Head Lighthouse to a location that will sustain it for many generations. The fundraising goal to cover these costs is $3.4 million. The move was successfully completed in June. For more information or to make a donation, visit http://gayheadlight.org/.
Be part of a new island tradition and help us restore and maintain the iconic Gay Head Lighthouse. The third annual Gay Head 10K race will be held on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, at 10 am. Click below for full race information and registration.
Richard Skidmore and his wife Joan LeLacheur have guided the Gay Head Lighthouse for 25 years.
On a hot, sunny evening last week, Richard Skidmore and Joan LeLacheur sat at a picnic table on the porch of a small cottage at Aquinnah Circle that has served as headquarters for the Gay Head Light relocation project.
Richard Skidmore lives by the rhythms of the lighthouse. — Maria Thibodeau
The soft-spoken couple carried their metal lightkeeper’s badges; Mr. Skidmore’s was clipped to his shirt and Ms. LeLacheur’s to her purse. Each badge bore the image of a lighthouse and the words U.S. Lighthouse Service. The U.S. Coast Guard assumed control of the country’s navigational aids in 1939, but the badges still exude a sort of timeless authority.
Mr. Skidmore, a former book reviewer for the New York Times, and Ms. LeLacheur, a wampum jewelry maker, have lived by the particular rhythms of the Gay Head Light for 25 years, tending to its mishaps and arranging countless visits with people from around the world. Like many Aquinnah residents, they have grown fond of the red and white sweep of the light through their windows at night.
Know a licensed fireworks operator on the island or Cape? We are planning a gala celebration of the lighthouse’s relighting, in August. Please use this form to get in touch with your ideas. More information about the celebration coming soon!
Lighthouse from a distance shortly after it was moved. If all goes according to plan, the tower will be open to the public again by mid-summer. Photo: Albert O. Fischer
With the summer season picking up, managers for the Gay Head Light relocation project hope to have the site mostly restored by the Fourth of July. About half the excavated soil has been returned to the site and a new concrete-block foundation is nearly complete.
On May 30, the lighthouse came to rest about six feet above a large concrete pad, well east of the eroding Gay Head cliffs. A network of steel beams beneath the lighthouse was removed this week, leaving the 400-ton structure resting entirely on its new foundation.
Cultural designation would include Moshup Beach. Photography: Timothy Johnson
The town of Aquinnah will seek a cultural designation for the area around Aquinnah Circle, including the Gay Head Light, from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which promotes arts, sciences and humanities in the state. Gay Head lighthouse committee member Berta Welch told selectmen on Tuesday that the designation may also include the shops at Aquinnah Circle, the Aquinnah Cultural Center and Moshup Beach. The town may define what constitutes the district, although the state cultural council would need to approve the proposal following a site visit.
The effort began last year with a visit to the Island by cultural council director Anita Walker, who toured the Gay Head Light with lighthouse committee member Len Butler and Nancy Gardella, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.
Speaking for the chamber, the lighthouse committee, and also Arts Martha’s Vineyard, which helped establish a cultural district in Vineyard Haven last year, Ms. Gardella told the selectmen that all three groups would work to promote the new district.
The Gay Head Lighthouse in its new location – photo by Sarah Mayhew
On an evening in mid-June, Sarah Mayhew captured this breath-taking shot of Aquinnah’s beloved Gay Head Light sitting proudly on its new, safer piece of the Gay Head Cliffs. In August, the famous red/white beacon will be relighted and the relocation celebrated. Stay tuned for news.
Geologists with the United States Geological Survey will remap the area now that the lighthouse has been moved. Timothy Johnson
While the Gay Head Light was being moved to safety last week, geologist Byron Stone was at the site working on a project of his own. A major excavation surrounding the lighthouse has revealed never before seen geologic layers that Mr. Stone, a researcher for the United States Geological Survey, hopes will shed light on how and when the Gay Head landscape was created. “Nobody knew that this was here,” Mr. Stone said last Thursday, as bulldozers rumbled around the site and workers prepared to move the lighthouse away from the eroding clay cliffs. Mr. Stone stood beside a large wall of soil, clay and rocks that extended the length of the excavation.
“When I saw the cut, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “These beds here are just spectacular.”
Geologist Byron Stone at the site last weekend. — Mark Lovewell
At the eastern end of the site, at the bottom of the exposure, about 15 feet of ancient white sand underlies several more feet of brown sand that Mr. Stone said indicates a former pond or lake. Both of those layers tilt about 80 degrees to the north, likely as a result of melting ice. Above the tilting layers, a relatively flat layer of cobble from an ancient riverbed supports yet another layer of brown sand from a later body of water. At the top of the exposure, about three feet of glacial till, peppered with rocks and boulders, is covered by a few inches of topsoil.
Mr. Stone’s attention focused mostly on the layer of till near the surface, which he says could help peg the date for when the last continental ice sheet retreated.
“We know now, from the excavation, that the till with boulders is at the top of the pile, and that’s proof for sure that the last ice sheet went over that pile,” Mr. Stone said. He added that boulders found within the glacial layer are just like the ones in the ocean to the east, which are known to have been left by the last ice sheet. The glacier is thought to have extended just south of Noman’s Land and Block Island.
After two and a half years of planning, it took only three days to move the lighthouse back from the cliffside brink.
The Island sentinel, safe and sound.Photo by Drew Kinsman.
On Saturday, the Gay Head Light reached its final stop on a 129-foot journey back from the site it had occupied since 1844, and which after more than a century of erosion was precariously close to the edge of the cliff.
After two and a half years of planning, fundraising, and many sleepless nights for those most intimately involved with the project to move the iconic structure, and three days of movement foot by foot along a steel track, the lighthouse was safe. The journey began on Thursday when workers with International Chimney Corp. and Expert House Movers began to move the historic beacon, while a crowd that included Island residents, visitors, and reporters gathered to watch.
Len Butler, building committee chairman, flanked by the men and women who moved the lighthouse, toasts the occasion. Photo by Liz Witham.
The building, which weighs in at 400 tons, traveled along metal I-beams on a path chosen for both its elevation and for the stability of the clay. Project managers said they hope the new location will be stable for another 150 years.
Ahead of schedule, at 11:10 am Saturday morning, it was time to celebrate.
As a crowd of onlookers gathered, project leader Lenny Butler of Aquinnah popped the cork on a bottle of champagne, and smashed it against the lighthouse to the cheers of the crowd.
“Those three days during the move, I almost felt like I was in a dream state,” Mr. Butler said in a telephone conversation. “I was literally two feet off the ground the whole time.”
The lighthouse now rests on its granite foundation on a grid of steel beams above a concrete slab platform. The next step, Mr. Butler said, is to build a foundation to fill what is a six-foot gap between the bottom of the lighthouse and the slab.
Bricklayers will lay solid concrete blocks in between the support beams. Once the blocks have picked up the load, the beams will be removed and the remaining gaps filled in.