The 5 Beautiful Lighthouses of Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard has 5 lighthouses dotted around the island. You can go inside four of the lighthouses of Martha’s Vineyard. Martha’s Vineyard Museum is responsible for two of the lighthouses – the Edgartown Lighthouse and East Chop Lighthouses. The town of Aquinnah runs the Aquinnah Lighthouse. The Coast Guard still operates West Chop Lighthouse.  Cape Pogue lighthouse is run by the Trustees of Reservations, a conservation organisation in Massachusetts, and the Coast Guard.  Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses are a fun way to see the island and the views from them are fantastic.

You can read more about the lighthouses of Martha’s Vineyard (and the 6th missing lighthouse that stood where the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is today) in MV Magazine.

Martha’s Vineyard Lighthouses

Why does such a small island need so many lighthouses?

The Martha’s Vineyard Lighthouses were needed because the island has a treacherous position for sailors. There are tides coming in from Boston and Rhode Island as well as underwater dangers like rocks and shoals.

Vineyard Haven had been an important port in New England for hundreds of years dating from 1634. Martha’s Vineyard became even more important as a center for the whaling industry in the 18th century.

Down Island Lighthouses

Most of the lighthouses were located down island near the towns of Edgartown and Vineyard Haven because that was where the commercial activities of the island were in historic times.

 

East Chop Lighthouse

Built in 1869, the East Chop Lighthouse replaced a telegraph signal tower at the same location. The original 1869 lighthouse burned down in 1871 and the cast iron version you see today was erected in 1878.  It is located in the town of Oak Bluffs and overlooks Nantucket Sound and is in the National Register of Historic Places.



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The East Chop Lighthouse is maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Est Chop Lighthouse
East Chop Lighthouse is near the town of Oak Bluffs

Practicalities for Visiting East Chop Lighthouse

The East Chop Lighthouse is open Sunday evenings during the summer. Children are free to visit and adults are charged a minimal entrance fee.

There is limited street parking for cars nearby. You can also the MV bus to reach the East Chop Lighthouse (numbers 7, 9, 13).

You can rent the East Chop Lighthouse for private events and Martha’s Vineyard weddings.

Fun Fact!  Funding shortages in the 1970s meant three of the Vineyard lighthouses were slated to be torn down (East Chop, Edgartown, and Aquinnah lighthouses). They were saved with the help of local conservation societies and Senator Ted Kennedy who had his own history with Martha’s Vineyard.

West Chop Lighthouse

Built in 1817, the West Chop Lighthouse started off as a wooden structure. The wooden lighthouse was replaced in 1838 with a brick building.  The current structure dates from 1891. Thanks to erosion, the West Chop Lighthouse has also been moved a couple of times.

The West Chop Lighthouse finally became automated in 1976 but it still uses its 1857 Fresnal lens. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The nearest town is Vineyard Haven which is a couple of miles away.

West Chop Lighthouse and American flag
West Chop Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard is run by the Coast Guard and not open for visitors.

The West Chop Lighthouse is owned by the US Coast Guard and is not open to the public. You can spot it though on the Steamship Authority Ferries coming into Martha’s Vineyard or if you are sailing in Vineyard Haven.

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Cape Pogue Lighthouse

The second oldest of Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses, Cape Pogue was built in 1801. Once again, the lighthouse was built because of the importance of the shipping and whaling industry to the island. Like the other lighthouses, the Cape Pogue lighthouse has also been rebuilt and moved in location. Cape Pogue has had erosion issues just like Aquinnah Lighthouse.

The Cape Pogue lighthouse is maintained today by the Trustees of the Reservation and the lantern inside by the US Coast Guard.

Cape Pogue Visitors Center run by Trustees of Reservation
The Trustees of Reservations run Cape Pogue nature reserve as well as other conservation projects in Massachusetts.

Practical Info for Visiting Cape Pogue Lighthouse

Located on the Cape Pogue wildlife reservation in Chappy, this lighthouse is not easily reached. You will need to take the little Chappy Ferry over to Chappy from Edgartown. Then either drive to Cape Pogue or arrange with the Trustees to have them pick you up for a tour of the lighthouse and Cape Pogue.

You can take tours of the wildlife reservation and the lighthouse during the summer from in front of the Trustees shack at the entrance to Cape Pogue.

Cape Pogue lighthouse tours sign
The Trustees run regular Lighthouse tours as well as other activities at Cape Pogue.

Cape Pogue is such a beautiful beach on Martha’s Vineyard that you might as well make a beach day out of it!

Edgartown Lighthouse

The original Edgartown Lighthouse was built in 1828 in Edgartown harbor on a small man-made island. Eventually a sand walkway was built over the years and the Lighthouse is no longer out on its own in Edgartown harbor. The lighthouse was destroyed from the effects of a hurricane in 1938. In 1939, the lighthouse was replaced by one that came from Ipswich Massachusetts. This Ipswich lighthouse was dismantled and towed over to Martha’s Vineyard by barge.

Edgartown lighthouse and grassy field
The Edgartown Lighthouse sits in the harbor

There is also a Children’s Memorial at the bottom for children who have passed away. The memorial started in 2001 as the idea of a local islander who had lost a teenage son in a car accident. We have placed a stone ourselves there for our youngest son who passed away in 2010. There is an annual Children’s Memorial Ceremony of Remembrance in September.

The Edgartown Lighthouse is currently maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Edgartown Lighthouse
The Edgartown Lighthouse has great views of the harbor from its top platform.

Practicalities for Visiting Edgartown Lighthouse

The Edgartown Lighthouse is open daily during the summer. There is a nominal fee for adults to climb up to the top and children are free.

There is limited parking on North Water Street. From North Water Street, you will need to walk about 10 minutes through a sandy path to get to Edgartown Lighthouse.

Edgartown Lighthouse
Edgartown Lighthouse sitting on its own little island which is now connected to Edgartown itself.

Like the East Chop Lighthouse, the Edgartown Lighthouse is open for private events and weddings.

Up Island Lighthouse

The limited number of lighthouses up island did have its benefits in terms of aiding smuggling activities.

Aquinnah Lighthouse

The predecessor to the Aquinnah Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built on Martha’s Vineyard.  A wooden lighthouse was built on this site in 1799 as the island became important to shipping and the whaling industry. A red brick lighthouse was built in 1856 to replace the wooden structure.

Climbing the stairs to the viewing platform near the actual light of the lighthouse is a fun thing for kids to do. The stairs are steep and narrow and the standing platform is also narrow. You get great views over the island and the cliffs on a clear day.

Fun Fact! In 2015, the Aquinnah lighthouse – all 400 tons of it – was moved 134 foot from where it  stood at a cost of $3.4 million. The lighthouse was in danger of falling down with the cliffs that were eroding. The lighthouse should be safe for another century!
And, this 2015 move was not even it’s first move! The lighthouse had been moved back from the eroding cliffs in 1844, too! That move was financed by a wealthy Edgartown resident and cost nearly $400 (about $13 million in today’s money!!).
Aquinnah Cliffs
The Aquinnah Cliffs are beautiful but subject to erosion.
You can also view the 1854 Fresnal lens that was installed at the Aquinnah Lighthouse for nearly 100 years at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. This lens was made in France, won first prize at the 1855 Paris Exhibition of Industry and had been a major tourist draw on its own back in the day.

Practicalities for Visiting Aquinnah Lighthouse

From from mid June to mid October, the lighthouse is open daily and in the evenings for sunset viewings on Thursday and Fridays. Kids under the age of 12 are free to enter. There is a minimal charge for adults.

Aquinnah Lighthouse at Sunset
Aquinnah Lighthouse at sunset

The Aquinnah lighthouse is easy to reach by car – drive straight to the end of the island and you will find it at Aquinnah Circle. Note that parking is limited.

If you are taking the MV bus, use Bus Route #5. From down-island the bus will take about 1 hour to get to Aquinnah.

Alternatively, there are Martha’s Vineyard tours that take you out to the Aquinnah Lighthouse.

By the way, the Aquinnah lighthouse is closed when it rains (we found out the hard way thinking it was an easy way to keep the kids entertained on a rainy day).

Tip!  Be sure to visit the area behind the stores and cafe/restaurant nearby for a view of the Aquinnah Lighthouse set on the multi-coloured Aquinnah Cliffs. It’s also the best spot to watch the sunset over the lighthouse and Aquinnah cliffs.

Martha’s Vineyard Lighthouses

Visiting the Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses is a fun way to tour the island. They tell the tale of the island’s history and provide landmarks for the Vineyard today. For visitors, they provide great scenic backdrops that adds to their Martha’s Vineyard memories.

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5 Beautiful Lighthouses in Martha’s Vineyard
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