11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Gay Head Lighthouse

Year Listed: 2013
Location: Aquinnah, Massachusetts
Threat: Erosion

Gay Head Lighthouse
Photo from Martha’s Vineyard Museum

Significance

Gay Head Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built on Martha’s Vineyard and one of the first in the U.S. to receive a first order Fresnel lens in 1856. Many men in the Aquinnah community, including members of the Wampanoag tribe, worked at the lighthouse. Standing atop the National Natural Landmark Gay Head Cliffs, the lighthouse serves as a beacon to Wampanoag tribal heritage and is the only lighthouse with a history of Native American Lighthouse keepers.

The lighthouse is in immediate danger of toppling over the edge of the Gay Head Cliffs, a consequence of a century of erosion and the direct impact of climate change. The lighthouse is 50’-60’ from the edge of the cliffs and about 10 feet away from losing its future. The rate of erosion is about 2 feet per year, and that rate can be accelerated by significant storms. It is estimated that in two years, or less, there will not be enough land left to accommodate the machinery and equipment needed to move the tower.