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
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 wreck.
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,
Courtesy 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.
From the collection of Edward Rowe
Courtesy 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 water.
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 The 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).