Gay Head Light is one of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

The Gay Head Lighthouse is in danger from the eroding cliff face. — File photo by Ezra Newick

On Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) named the Gay Head Lighthouse to its 2013 list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.” The listing is expected to bolster efforts to save the lighthouse from tumbling into the sea.

“This annual list spotlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage,” NTHP said in a press release. “More than 240 sites have been on the list over its 26-year history, and in that time, only a handful of listed sites have been lost.”

The designation comes just as the official campaign to save the lighthouse begins. On Friday, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and the Gay Head Lighthouse Advisory Committee will kick off the “Keep on Shining” campaign to relocate and restore the Gay Head Lighthouse with a Community Open (Light)House and Solstice Celebration from 5 pm to 9 pm.

The event will include musical performances from a variety of Islanders as well as food and raffles, according to a press release. It is free and open to all.

“The residents of Aquinnah are elated that the National Trust of Historic Places has chosen the Gay Head Lighthouse as ‘one of eleven most endangered historic places,'” Aquinnah selectman and former Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head chairman Beverly Wright told The Times. “Residents of the Island and those that have visited have always known the significance of our lighthouse to the community and the Wampanoag Tribe. So now the world is aware of our plight to save it from falling into the ocean. We thank the National Trust.

“The Coast Guard has informed the Town of Aquinnah that they will not be replacing the rotating beacon with a flashing LED beacon. We will continue to see our familiar red/white sweeping beacon. We appreciate that the Coast Guard recognized the consensus of the community.

“As we move forward we ask that you help save and preserve what really belongs to all of us. Let the Gay Head Light Keep On Shining.”

The U.S. Coast Guard currently owns the beacon and leases it to the Museum. The Museum has partnered with the town of Aquinnah to begin preservation efforts, and together, they recently formed the Gay Head Lighthouse Advisory Committee. The Coast Guard is expected to list the Light as excess property on August 1, enabling the town to purchase it for a nominal sum

At a special town meeting on February 5, Aquinnah voters agreed to purchase the Gay Head Lighthouse and initiate the process to preserve, restore, and relocate it.

The red brick beacon that has guided mariners since 1856 sits 50 feet from the edge of a cliff that is receding about two feet every year. The lighthouse must be moved within the next couple of years if it is to be saved, according to experts.

The cost to shore up and move the lighthouse is expected to reach several million dollars. One outstanding question is where to move it.

“Gay Head Lighthouse represents an important part of Massachusetts coastal communities’ identity and the cultural and nautical history of the United States,” Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said. “With the impact of climate change and the passage of time threatening the site, raising public awareness and funds to relocate and restore the lighthouse is more critical than ever before.”

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has identified more than 240 threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures since 1988, NTHP said. The designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites from every region of the country. At times, that attention has garnered public support to quickly rescue a treasured landmark; while in other instances, it has been the impetus of a long battle to save an important piece of our history.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places. For more information, go to