Cape Poge Light Station – Martha’s Vineyard
By Mary Moran
An island located east of Martha’s Vineyard, named Chappaquiddick, is home to the Cape Poge (or “Pogue”) light station. In 1801, Congress appropriated $2,000. in order to construct the lighthouse at the northeast tip of the island to help make a safe entrance for ships into the nearby harbor. The light house was needed because fishing and whaling was increasing in the surrounding waters and traffic had increased greatly. A four acre property was chosen for the station and in November of the same year, The Cape Poge light would officially go into service as an active aid for navigation. The lighthouse stood 35 feet tall and was octagonal in shape. A small keeper’s home, consisting of only two rooms, was also built on the property. Both structures were constructed of wood and the fixed white light of Cape Poge shone approximately 55 feet above the mean water level on the island. The first light-keeper, Matthew Mayhew, was appointed by Thomas Jefferson himself. He made a yearly salary of two hundred dollars while at his post.
In 1825, it was reported that approximately two out of the four acres of the Cape Poge property had been lost to erosion. Subsequently, the keeper’s house was moved back, away from the shore. With erosion being a never-ending threat, the lighthouse and house would endure multiple movements and upgrades in the years to come. After the tower’s first push back from the waters in 1838, it was decided six years later that the structure needed to be rebuilt. Winslow Lewis reported, in 1844, that the tower “was rotten from base to roof.” He took on the endeavor and erected a new wooden structure with all new lighting equipment totaling $1,600. Lewis would continue updating the structure in 1857. At that time, he replacing the lighting equipment with a fourth-order Fresnel lens and placed it into a new, freshly installed lantern.
Nearly 21 years later, in 1878, the keeper’s home was once again in danger of being engulfed by the always hungry sea. The house was replaced in 1880 by a much larger structure, due to the need of also housing an assistant keeper. Following in the new house’s footsteps, a new wooden lighthouse was built in 1893. Although this structure was only meant to be a temporary fix, it is still standing to this day.
Since 1907, Cape Poge light has been moved an additional four times to evade water damage and devastation from the sea. Erosion has proven to be the constant and inevitable struggle for this light, and will continue to be for the duration of this historical structure’s existence.
As technology advanced, so did the lighthouse. In 1943, the light was fully automated, leaving no need for a keeper or an assistant. Both were let go from their duties. The keeper’s house was sold privately in 1954 and it was subsequently demolished for the use of its lumber. In recent years, more drastic moves were taken in protecting the life-saving light. In 1986 lifted by an army helicopter in 1987, the lighthouse was moved another 500 feet from the shore’s edge. In October of 1997, the entire lantern was taken back to Falmouth, then transported to New Bedford, where it was completely restored and repainted. After its return to the island, the Cape Poge lighthouse went back into service and remains an active navigational aid to this day. Although the location of the lighthouse remains extremely remote to the public, records show the beautiful old structure has thousands of visitors a year. The property is managed by the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and amazing 90-minute tours are offered in-season by the Trustees of Reservations. To reach the light, there is a connecting barrier beach from the Dike Bridge in Edgartown that requires either a 3.5 mile hike, or with a proper permit, it is also 4-wheel drive accessible. The road may be closed at times, however, due to erosion and flooding. Most visitors access the island by use of the small “On Time” ferry, also out of Edgartown. To make tour reservations, call 508.627.3599.
While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic 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, jetted tubs for 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.