On May 28, 2015, under a blanket of fog, at precisely 11:10 am, the 400-ton brick Gay Head Lighthouse clicked into its new resting place after being moved over 100 feet from the eroding bluff that had threatened to topple the 1856 tower.
After weeks of preparation, the actual move of the lighthouse only took three days. It was moved by Expert House Movers and International Chimney Company, two firms that are already famous from previous lighthouse moves such as that of the Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island, Rhode Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Erosion is one of the biggest threats to many lighthouses, especially in Massachusetts, which in recent years, has also seen the move of Cape Cod (Highland) Lighthouse, Nauset Lighthouse, and Sankaty Head Lighthouse. Florida’s Cape San Blas Lighthouse was also recently moved because of erosion.
On the last day of the move, Jerry Matyiko, owner of Expert House Movers, suggested that an impromptu auction be held for the privilege of lifting the lever that would move the lighthouse to its new and final resting spot. The auction, led by Len Butler, chairman of the lighthouse relocation committee, didn’t take long and was won for $1,000 by Beverly Wright, whose name will now go down in history.
As the crowd of onlookers and workmen watched with great anticipation, the activated equipment slowly moved forward. Some of the crew crouched over the nail as the plumb bob slowly approached a tape measure and the last ten inches were counted off until the shout came “Stop.” Then, Mr. Butler came forward with a bottle of champagne, and after a brief tribute statement and to the cheers of the crowd, he smashed the bottle of champagne against the brick wall of the lighthouse. Then Mr. Butler, who was then joined by the crew as more bottles of champagne were uncorked, held one bottle high and shouted “Cheers to Gay Head Lighthouse.”
The Gay Head Light Station was first established in 1799 on Martha’s Vineyard, which is the third largest island on the east coast of the United States and is off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The current tower was built in 1856. One hundred years later, in an action that upset throngs of people, rather than try to find a caretaker, the United States Coast Guard demolished the beautiful lighthouse keeper’s house that once stood by the lighthouse.
This is not the first time that the lighthouse had been in danger of being lost. In the 1980s there was discussion to demolish the abandoned, neglected, and vandalized lighthouse. However, a local resident, William Waterway, stepped forward to save the lighthouse and the lighthouse was leased to his Vineyard Environmental Research Institute. In 1994 he allowed the lease to be transferred to the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, which can now be credited directly and indirectly with raising the money to move and save the lighthouse.
Lighthouse aficionados, preser-vationists, and historians, as well as all Americans, owe a debt of gratitude to all those who stepped forward to make the move of the Gay Head Lighthouse possible. Not only have they saved the lighthouse for future generations, they have also honored the memory of those who came before us who played such significant roles in the development of our country into a great nation.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2015 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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