Cape Poge (sometimes
spelled "Pogue") is a lonely, windswept point at the northeast tip of
Chappaquiddick, an island of about five square miles just east of
Martha's Vineyard. The two islands are connected at their southern ends
by a narrow barrier beach, but most people get to Chappaquiddick by
taking the tiny "On Time" ferry from Edgartown.
With Edgartown's whaling business flourishing at the
dawn of the nineteenth century, Congress recognized the need for a
navigational light at Cape Poge to help direct traffic to the town's
harbor. An appropriation of $2,000 was made on January 30, 1801, and by
early March, four acres of land had been purchased for a light station.
Fishermen in Edgartown Harbor
with Cape Poge in the distance
A 35-foot, octagonal wooden lighthouse tower was completed in
November 1801. A small, two-room keeper's house was also built. A
primitive "spider lamp" exhibited a fixed white light 55 feet above
mean high water.
President Thomas Jefferson appointed Matthew Mayhew the first
keeper at $200 a year. Mayhew and his wife had eight children, several
of them born during their years at Cape Poge. It was a difficult and
isolated place for a family to live. At first, Mayhew was not provided
a boat. He requested one and was allowed to buy one in late 1802,
provided it cost no more than $70.
In 1825, Mayhew reported the loss of two acres of land at the
station due to erosion. The house was moved before the ocean could
claim it. Mayhew died at 68 in 1834, and his successor couldn't reach
the station for two weeks due to ice. During the period before a new
keeper arrived, a schooner was wrecked at Cape Poge. Several passengers
froze to death, including one who died after reaching the lighthouse.
It isn't known if the light at Cape Poge was operating at the time of
The tower was moved back from the edge of the eroding bluff in
1838. I.W.P. Lewis, who inspected the station in 1842, pulled no
punches in his report:
An octagonal frame building, rotten from base to roof,
and requires to be rebuilt at once; has been moved from its original
position several hundred feet on account of the inroads of the sea. The
keeper states that, four years since, a breakwater, (so called,)
consisting of pilings, planks, and ballast, was constructed, to protect
the point from further decay; but the whole was demolished the
following winter, and its remains (the ballast) are now visible under
water about seventy-five feet outside of the present beach.
Lewis also reported that the three-room keeper's dwelling was
"rotten, leaky and unfit to repair." The keeper, Lott Norton, stated,
"I am very much troubled to find sleeping room for my family... There
is not a single closet in the house, nor any convenience, save the
three rooms above mentioned." Keeper Norton was supplied with a boat,
but complained "... she is old and rotten."
The 1844 Cape Poge Lighthouse, c. 1870s
of U.S. Coast Guard
Winslow Lewis completed a new tower, with new lighting
equipment, in 1844 at a cost of $1,600.
A fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the lamps and
reflectors installed by Lewis in 1857, and a new lantern was installed
on the tower at the same time.
1892 drawing of Cape Poge Light
|In August 1856, while Daniel Smith
was keeper, a 13-year-old girl was playing in a small boat on the beach
at Cape Poge when the tide carried the boat into the ocean. Joshua
Smith, the 11-year-old son of the keeper, saw the girl and fetched
The boy and others went out in a boat and rescued the
girl, whose boat was filling with water and would have sunk. Her father
subsequently published a note of thanks to his daughter's rescuers in
the Vineyard Gazette.
In 1878, it was reported that the keeper's house would
probably "fall into the sea within two years." A new, larger dwelling
was built, farther from the shore, in 1880. The bigger house was needed
largely because the station was assigned an assistant keeper in 1867.
A wooden tower, 40 feet inland from the previous one,
was built in 1893. At the time it was considered a temporary structure,
but it has survived to this day.
In 1911, the apparatus that turned the lens
malfunctioned, and the keepers had to turn the lens by hand for four
nights until new bearings finally arrived.
The 1893 tower has been moved four times, the first time
in 1907. It was moved 95 feet inland in 1922; in 1960 it was moved back
another 150 feet. In January 1987 it was moved 500 feet inland by
helicopter. At that time it was also refurbished and a modern plastic
lens was installed. It was repainted again a few years later. The
workers found that the tower's windows had been broken and birds had
taken up residence inside the lighthouse.
the collection of Edward Rowe Snow
of Dorothy Bicknell
On rare occasions the harbor between Edgartown and Cape
Poge has been frozen over in winter. Vineyard Gazette editor
Henry Beetle Hough recorded walking over the ice to Cape Poge during a
stretch of severe cold in 1933.
A 1934 article reported that Keeper Marcus Pieffer made
trips to Edgartown twice weekly for supplies. He had to travel the
length of Chappaquiddick Island to get to the ferry that took him to
Edgartown. During the winter he used a motorboat and made the trip by
The light was automated in 1943 and the last keeper,
Joseph Dubois, was removed. In 1954 the keeper's house was sold to a
private party. It was torn down for the lumber.
The tower had to be moved back about 500 feet from the eroding
shoreline in 1987. The lighthouse was moved by a U.S. Army helicopter,
and the lantern was moved separately. Some refurbishing of the tower
was done in the new location.
|In October 1997, the lantern was
removed from the tower by helicopter. It was taken to Falmouth and then
trucked to New Bedford, where it was sandblasted and repainted, and
broken panes of glass were replaced. David F. Belcher, superintendent
of the Chappaquiddick management unit of the Trustees of Reservations,
has been in charge of the recent renovations. "I'm determined to bring
it back to that  look," Belcher told the Cape Cod Times.
Despite its remoteness, Belcher says thousands of visitors view Cape
Poge Light each year.
The wooden stairway inside Cape
Poge Light has been beautifully restored
A view from the top
Cape Poge Light continues to serve as an active aid to
navigation. The lighthouse can be reached via a 3.5-mile hike from the
Dike Bridge or with the use of a four-wheel drive vehicle; you must
obtain a permit.
The lighthouse can also be visited on an excellent tour
offered in season by the Trustees
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book
Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.
list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers
of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at
email@example.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does
so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and
Matthew Mayhew (1801-1834); Lot [Lott?] Norton (1835-1844);
Aaron Norton (1844-1850); Edward Worth (1850-1853); Daniel Smith
(1853-1859); George Ripley Marchant (1859-1866); Edward Worth
(1866-1882); Jethro Worth (assistant 1867-1882, principal keeper
1882-1883); George H. Fisher (1883-1898); George H. Dolby (1898-1902);
Wallace Eldredge (1902-1908); J. E. Barrus (1908-1919); Henry L. Thomas
(1919-1931); Marcus Pieffer (1931-1938); Joseph H. Dubois (1938-1943).