Iconic Martha’s Vineyard lighthouse being moved inland
Aquinnah, Mass. — An iconic lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard’s is set to begin a multi-day trek to a new home farther inland.
The $3 million effort to move the Gay Head Lighthouse, among the most endangered historic landmarks in the U.S., would prevent the 160-year-old structure from tumbling down the rapidly-eroding cliffside.
The beacon was a critical waypoint for mariners navigating the sometimes foggy coastline during the heyday of the whaling trade, which was centered around southeastern Massachusetts communities like Martha’s Vineyard during the 19th century.
Today, it’s a popular tourist destination on the sparsely populated western edge of the famous resort island, which also is home to the federally-recognized Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe.
The lighthouse move had been slated to start June 10 but was pushed up to Thursday because of favorable weather and faster-than-expected site preparation work.
Crews already have hoisted the 400-ton brick-and-mortar lighthouse about six feet off the ground and placed it on a wood-and-steel frame ready for the move. Over the next few days, the 52-foot-high structure will be nudged along a network of steel beams and rollers by hydraulic jacks.
If all goes as planned, it will arrive at its final destination — a concrete pad about 129 feet due southeast — on Saturday.
Advocates say moving the lighthouse has become more urgent in recent years because constant landslides, pummeling ocean waves and flowing groundwater have severely eroded the brilliantly-colored Gay Head cliffs, oftentimes at a rate of several feet per year.
The lighthouse is now just 46 feet from the clay and sandstone cliff’s edge. Within two years, advocates feared, it would have been too close to the edge to move safely.