Gay Head Light

Martha's Vineyard cliffs and Gay Head Lighthouse

Gay Head Light (Aquinnah)

By Mary Moran

 

Martha's Vineyard cliffs and Gay Head Lighthouse
Martha’s Vineyard cliffs and Gay Head Lighthouse. (Photo by m01229, Flickr)

In the late 18th century, the whaling industry was beginning to flourish for both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands. Subsequently, traffic on the waters surrounding the islands began to rapidly increase. Also there was an increasing number of devastating shipwrecks on and around the waters of Nantucket Sound. In 1796, Congress was approached with the proposal to building a light house at Gay Head, an area of Martha’s Vineyard now named Aquinnah. The light would protect the waters between the clay cliffs of Gay Head and the Elizabeth Islands. This area has extremely dangerous underwater shoals and rock formations that are a constant threat to the safe travel of whaling vessels and their crews. The island was granted $570 for the construction of a light, and in 1799 two acres of land were given to house the first lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard – the Gay Head Light.

Interesting Fact: Although the town of Gay Head has changed its name to Aquinnah, Gay Head Light will remain officially recognized as such due to its 1987 placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gay Head Light
Gay Head Light. (Photo by Chris Costello, Wikimedia Commons)

As years passed, the clay cliffs slowly eroded and the Gay Head tower seemed to be falling apart at the same pace. In 1852 the Federal Lighthouse Board requested a brand new, better tower for the “lighthouse that is second to none on the East Coast.” The following year, $13,000 was appropriated for not only the tower itself, but for a better light apparatus as well. The sum of $30,000 was added to the total in 1854. This time for a major upgrade, a first-order Fresnel lens. Caleb King, a Boston man, would construct the new brick lighthouse as well as a brick keeper’s home.

The light tower stood 52 feet tall and was conical in shape. The bricks themselves were harvested directly from the clay of the Gay Head cliffs where the light resides. Inside the durable brick lighthouse, a twelve-foot tall, whale oil-fired, first-order Fresnel lens was installed. Weighing in at one and a half tons, the lens consisted of 1008 crystal prisms that produced a bright flash every ten seconds. Gay Head Light was one of the first lighthouses ever to receive a first-order Fresnel lens. This one in particular, won first prize in the 1855 Paris Exhibition of Industry.

Because of the light’s rarity, it caused an influx of publicity and tourism for the island. To stay distinguished and unique from any other light on the entire East Coast, the Gay Head Light changed its pattern in 1874. The light now produced three white flashes followed by one red flash.

Interesting Fact: In 1902, the brick keeper’s dwelling was demolished due to a series of unexplained illnesses and deaths that seemed to continue among the occupants of the house. It was replaced by a small wooden cottage.

The mid-1900s began a period of change for the Gay Head Light Station. In 1952, the outdated Fresnel lens was replaced by a ‘high intensity’ electric beacon. The crystal lens would stay safe, however, with all its weight and glory being donated to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, for the public’s viewing. Only four years later, in 1956, Gay Head Light would be completely automated which inevitably caused the removal of the keeper’s house from its property.

Thirty years later, the lighthouse was once again in peril; this time from demolition due to lack of Congressional funding for the Coast Guard. Being one of three lighthouses in danger of destruction. The Vineyard Environmental Research Institute formed a federal petition, which led to congressional testimony. The petition had the support of both Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman Gerry Studds.

In the end, all three Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses were saved and leased out by the Coast Guard to the Research Institute for 35 years. The lease gave the Institute full control over all three light stations. Over the next year, proceeds from community fundraising were given to restore the Gay Head Light and its grounds. In 1986, Gay Head Light Station was open to the public for the first time in thirty years. Once open, lighthouse tours and sunset gatherings were offered to visitors. In 1994, the Vineyard Environmental Research Institute transferred its license over to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Ownership was then turned to the town of Aquinnah. Today, Gay Head Light is a current aid to navigation for the Coast Guard and is still managed by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Recent Changes: In May of 2014, $3.5 million was raised in order to once again move the lighthouse away from the eroding cliffs. The move extended the survival of the tower for an estimated 150 years. It was re-lit on August 11, 2015. Today, picturesque Gay Head Light is open to the public for tours through the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

More Cape Cod Lighthouses

 


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of our rooms have their own individual charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of Cape Cod adventures, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs and a relaxing stay before and after your day.


Mary Moran is a Falmouth native and knowledgable about Cape Cod. In addition to writing for the Palmer House Inn, she’s also frequently at the inn and available  to answer quest’s questions. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time exploring Falmouth’s coastal waterways.

Wings Neck Lighthouse

Wings Neck Lighthouse and Tower

By Mary Moran

Wings Neck Lighthouse
Wings Neck Lighthouse and swing.

The Wing’s Neck Lighthouse, located in Pocasset, a small village in Bourne, Massachusetts, is a beautiful historic structure that dates back to 1849. Although the grounds are not open to the public, one can catch a glimpse of the lighthouse from the water. The lighthouse and keeper’s house is now a rental property where lighthouse lovers and Cape Cod vacationers can stay, explore and enjoy the unique structure on wonderfully secluded Wing’s Neck.

Wings Neck Lighthouse
Wings Neck Lighthouse and quarters.

In the 19th century, the iron industry began to flourish in Bourne and the surrounding areas. Because of this boom, vessel traffic began to increase significantly on Buzzards Bay. The location of Wing’s Neck, a peninsula jutting out into the Bay, provided a great spot to install a lighthouse in order to aid navigation. In 1849, $3.500. was appropriated to build a lighthouse. Thus, the Wing’s Neck Light Station was established. The original lighthouse was a wooden hexagonal structure  built on top of the keeper’s house. The tower’s light was 38 feet above the ground and 50 feet above the water level. The first keeper of the light was a man by the name of Edward Doty Lawrence. He remained keeper until 1854 when he was removed from the position for apparently belonging to the wrong political party. His replacement, John Maxim stayed at the lighthouse for nearly 11 years but was killed in the battle of Gettysburg. After Maxim’s unfortunate death, Lawrence regained his former spot and continued his duties until 1887. However, during Lawrence’s tenure at Wing’s Neck, the keeper’s  house began to suffer immensely from the great weight of the tower pressing down on the roof.


Source: Wings Neck Lighthouse

By the 1870’s the house was literally being crushed by the structure. The tower that can be seen today was built in 1890 to replace the failing architecture of the first light. This new lighthouse was built next to the new keeper’s home instead of on top. However, the replacement lighthouse did keep the same wooden hexagonal form, this time with a fieldstone foundation and with a height of 44 feet. More additions to the tower were made in 1902 when a 1,000 pound fog bell was added. The warning bell was rung every 30 seconds to warn captains of dangerous fog levels. When vessel travel began to once again significantly increase due to the opening of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914, the keeper’s house from Ned’s Point Light was moved to Wing’s Neck in 1923 to provide a home for an assistant keeper to take over the excess work that was accumulating. Today, the Ned’s Point keeper’s house remains standing and is a privately owned home. After the building of the Cleveland Ledge, the necessity of the Wing’s Neck Light began to dwindle. In 1945, the light was officially discontinued. The property was then sold privately in 1947 to Frank and Irene Flanagan, of Boston, Massachusetts. The Flanagan’s were known as a very musical family and it is said that the Von Trapp family spent some time at the Wing’s Neck property when it was owned by the Flanagan clan. Today, the Wing’s Neck lighthouse and keeper’s house remains as a private vacation rental. Also, remaining on the property is the original oil house from 1849 and the privately owned Ned’s Point keeper’s house that was originally built in the 1870’s. The surrounding land is now a monitoring area for the Cape Cod Canal, complete with a radar tower and closed circuit televisions.

Wings Neck Lighthouse and Tower
Wings Neck Lighthouse and Tower


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of our rooms have their own individual charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures all over the Cape, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs and a relaxing stay before and after your day.


Mary Moran is a Falmouth native and knowledgable about Cape Cod. In addition to writing for the Palmer House Inn, she’s also frequently at the inn and available  to answer quest’s questions. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time exploring Falmouth’s coastal waterways.

The Captain Edward Penniman House

Captain Penniman House
Captain Penniman House
Captain Penniman House

Edward Penniman was a native of Eastham, Massachusetts. He was born in 1831 and at the age of eleven he began his sailing career. His ship’s voyage sailed to the treacherous waters of the Grand Banks. To this day the Grand Banks area is known as a plentiful fishing grounds. It is located off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland. For several years he sailed just the New England waters, however, at that time, the best chance to earn wealth was in the whaling industry and New Bedford, Massachusetts with its deep water port and railroad system was the center of New England’s largest whaling fleet. At the age of twenty-one in 1852, Edward Penniman went to New Bedford to sign on to his first whaling expedition. Several years later, after becoming a captain, he chose New Bedford as his home port.

Whale Bone Gate
Whale Bone Gate

By the late 1800’s the whale population in the Atlantic had been exhausted and whalers were forced to sail further from home in search of their quarry. Captain Penniman became one of the region’s most successful whaling masters. The voyages frequently took three to four years. It was not uncommon for the captains to take their wives and children along for the voyage. Captain Penniman wife and children accompanied him on several of these voyages. His wife was named Betsy Augusta but he affectionately called her “Gustie”. Gusty was not just a passenger, she assisted with navigation and other shipboard matters.  Eugene, their Penniman’s oldest son grew up to become the second generation whaling captain in the family.

Penniman House Door
Penniman House Door

After his fourth voyage in 1868, Captain Penniman went back to Eastham and built a second Empire style home that sits on Fort Hill. It is a two and a half story house with a central hallway. Perhaps its most striking feature is an octagonal cupola that has arched windows on all sides. The exterior is clapboards and is decorated with elegant millwork trim. It is interesting to imagine how spectacular this house must have been in rural Eastham, at the time of its construction. Most of the homes in the area were simple Cape Cod cottages with shingled siding and they were never painted. This house yellow clapboards, with white trim, black window sashes, green wooden blinds and it had brown and red roof shingles. The house had an elaborate white wooden fence and the entrance gate that is still standing is made from a whale’s jawbone.

Window Pediment
Window Pediment

The design and colors were grand but it also had “state of the art” technology within its wall. It was the first house in Eastham to have indoor plumbing. The roof had a water collection system that lead to a large tank in the attic. It used a gravity flow system that piped water from the tank to the bathroom and kitchen. There is also a large barn that echos the design of the house.

Captain Penniman House
Captain Penniman House

The charming Penniman House is located at the intersection of Fort Hill Road and Governor Prence Road in Eastham. It is within the “Cape Cod National Seashore”. It is about an hour and a half drive from the Palmer House Inn. It is open to the public during the summer season. For more information call 508-487-1256.


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of our rooms have their own individual charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures all over the Cape, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs and a relaxing stay before and after your day.