The first white settlement on Martha's Vineyard was established in 1642, and the early settler Thomas Mayhew called the area "Great Harbor." The town's spacious harbor is bounded by Chappaquiddick Island to the south and east.
Martha's Vineyard, like Nantucket, developed a booming whaling industry in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Between them, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard owned one quarter of America's whaling fleet just before the Revolution. By the 1800s, more than 100 Edgartown men were captains of whaling ships. The magnificent houses built for these captains are still among the most beautiful in New England. The whaling industry was going strong in 1828 when Congress appropriated $5,500 and the federal government purchased a plot of land from Seth Vincent for $80 for the purpose of building a lighthouse at the entrance to Edgartown Harbor.
Sylvanus Crocker became keeper in 1841 for $350 per year. Crocker had been employed in the construction of the lighthouse as a carpenter. In October 1842, he reported:
In 1847, a new stone breakwater was built for $4700, replacing the old wooden one. An 1850 inspection reported that Keeper Crocker was not living in the lighhouse, but had moved into another house close by, undoubtedly because he considered the lighthouse unsafe.
fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the old lamps and reflectors in
1856. The dwelling and walkway were repaired many times through the
years. A storage building, oil house, and a fog bell and striking
machinery were added over the years.
Probably because of the building’s defects and the its
vulnerable location, the keepers generally only stayed for only a few
years. Henry L. Thomas—after a dozen years as keeper at Cape Poge Light
on nearby Chappaquiddick Island—was in charge from 1931 to 1938, and
conditions at the lighthouse had improved somewhat by the time a 1934
newspaper article described his family’s life:
lighthouse home has practically all the conveniences that go to make
the modern home comfortable, except for electricity. As the lighthouse
is located a quarter of a mile out from shore it has never been wired
for electricity, although they have a radio, running water, and a
modern heating plant.
The dwelling and walkway were repaired many times through the years. The hurricane of September 21, 1938, pretty much finished off the old building. The Coast Guard took over the Lighthouse Service in 1939, and they quickly demolished the dilapidated structure.
A memorial was established at the base of the lighthouse in 2001. The Martha's Vineyard Children's Lighthouse Memorial consists of stones engraved with the names of children who have died, along with part of a poem by Tomas Napoleon called "A Remembrance of an Unforgotten Vineyard Summer."
''These kids are bright lights that shine on forever,'' said Roberta Hoffman, who bought a stone for her son Aaron, who died in 1994 at age 18 after a five-year battle with cancer. ''What better way to commemorate them than with a lighthouse meant to stay lit eternally.''
For information or to donate to the Martha's Vineyard Children's Lighthouse Memorial, write to:
In 2007, the Martha's Vineyard Museum received funds from the town of Edgartown through the Community Preservation Act for a restoration of the lighthouse. The renovations included the installation of new windows with glass panes and a spiral staircase to the top of the tower. Previously, there had been only a ladder.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.
Keepers: (This 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
Jeremiah Pease (1828-1841 and 1843-1849); Sylvanus Crocker (1841-1843 and 1849-1853); William Vinson (1853-1855); James Blankenship (1855-1861); William Vincent (1861-1866); Zolmond Steward (1866-c. 1870); Benjamin Huxford (c. 1870-?); Joseph H. Barrus (1919-1931); Henry L. Thomas (1931-1938); Fred Vidler (1938)