Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse // 1881

Pre-1939 image of original lighthouse with walkway to the left.

With Edgartown being synonymous with the whaling and the ocean, its obvious the town has long had a lighthouse to guide weary travellers. In 1828, Congress approved $5,500 for “building a pier and light-house on the Point of Flats, at the entrance to Edgartown Harbor.” That first lighthouse was a two-story dwelling with a side-gabled roof atop which was centered the lantern room. The structure was erected on wooden pilings out in the water, requiring its first keeper to row a short distance to get to the tower. In 1830, a 1,500-foot-long wooden walkway was built at a cost of $2,500 to connect the lighthouse to the shore. In 1840, the rotten wooden pilings supporting the lighthouse were replaced by a stone pier. The keeper’s house was drafty and leaky, and vulnerable to the sea and weather due to its exposed location. This resulted in a greater than average turnover of keepers, and some keepers refused to live in the official quarters preferring to seek lodging on the nearby shore. The lighthouse was restored numerous times through the early 20th century until The Great Hurricane of 1938 inflicted significant damage to the lighthouse. Upon taking control of the nation’s lighthouses in 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard quickly tore down the building.

The original plan was to replace the lighthouse with a steel skeleton tower, but instead a disused 1881 lighthouse that served as a rear range light on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts was dismantled and barged, minus its brick lining, to Edgartown. The relocated forty-five-foot cast-iron tower was soon in service at Edgartown and remains an active aid to navigation today, showing an automated flashing red light every six seconds. The lighthouse remains a must-see spot when visiting Edgartown.

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