Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2014

1844 Foundation of 1799 Gay Head Lighthouse Found


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Martha Vanderhoop, member of Save the Gay Head ...
Photo by: William Waterway

On Tuesday afternoon, October 21, 2013, Gay Head Lighthouse researcher William Waterway discovered the 1844 stone foundation for Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts’s original wooden Gay Head Lighthouse that was built in 1799. Mr. Waterway has a long personal history with the Gay Head Light and is currently writing a book about the lighthouse to be published by History Press in early 2014.

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William Waterway in front of the 1844 stone ...
Photo by: Martha Vanderhoop

“This discovery is of major importance to the history of the Gay Head Lighthouse, and to the present effort to save the existing lighthouse,” said Mr. Waterway. “This 1844 stone foundation was built to hold the original 1799 wooden Gay Head Lighthouse when it was moved back 75 feet from the eroding cliffs. With this discovery, we will now be able to calculate the rate of erosion of the Gay Head Cliffs from 1799 to the present time. This is the first time in history we’ve had such solid evidence as an historic reference point.”

The current brick Gay Head Lighthouse replaced the original 1799 wooden lighthouse in 1856. Today, the Gay Head Lighthouse is threatened by erosion, and was recently placed on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouse as well as the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.

Mr. Waterway is no stranger to the Gay Head Lighthouse. As previously reported in Lighthouse Digest, in the 1980s his nonprofit organization, Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI), was the first civilian organization in U.S. history to receive control of “active” lighthouses from the United States Coast Guard. In the 1980s, the U.S. Coast Guard was planning to disassemble the Gay Head Lighthouse and replace it with a steel skeleton topped off with a strobe light. Mr. Waterway’s effort to save the lighthouse received the support of Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman Gerry Studds. After giving testimony before Congress, Mr. Waterway’s organization, VERI, received control of three endangered Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses via a unique 35-year license with the US Coast Guard.

Today, an island-wide effort is underway on Martha’s Vineyard to raise $3 million to move the threatened Gay Head Lighthouse to a safe location.

For more information or if you have historic photos of Gay Head Lighthouse to share, contact William Waterway at 508-627-4929, williamwaterway@aol.com, 5 Pleasant Ave., Edgartown, MA 02539 http://www.williamwaterway.com.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2014 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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