Aquinnah settles on new location for Gay Head Lighthouse

Photo illustration by Laurel Wil

Aquinnah selectmen announced at their Tuesday meeting that the town has decided to relocate the historic Gay Head Lighthouse to a site 135 feet southeast of its current location, on an abutting lot. The future site is a few feet lower than the current site, but it will satisfy all U.S. Coast Guard requirements for visibility from sea, according to the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee.

The town purchased the land from the Claytor family for $32,000 with Community Preservation Act funds. “We are especially pleased because Lot 23 is also the site preferred by the National Park Service, the Wampanoag Tribe and the Massachusetts Historical Commission due to a combination of more favorable ecological and archaeological considerations,” said Beverly Wright, chairman of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse committee. “We are making tremendous progress toward our goal and now must refocus our efforts on raising the remainder of the $3 million needed to make the relocation a reality.”

The lighthouse, built in 1854, now sits 46 feet from the quickly eroding coastal bank. The new location is 185 feet from the nearest point of the clay cliffs. The lighthouse will be situated less than 100 feet to the rear of two homes at 9 and 13 Aquinnah Circle, owned by Joseph Murray, according to assessors records.

The results of geological tests were one of the factors in choosing the site, according to the committee. “Analysis of core samples indicates that Lot 23 is on a stable geographic formation which should remain resistant to future erosion for a minimum of 140 years, according to an analysis of historic erosion rates,” the committee said in a news release announcing the decision.

The other site under consideration was to the southwest, just behind the shops on the pathway leading to the Gay Head Cliffs viewing area. The committee used four criteria to determine the new location: sensibility, suitability, sustainability, and accessibility.

The committee thought the new location was most suitable because of the stability of the land and the orientation of the lighthouse as an aid to maritime navigation.

The committee also said the public access will remain the same, and can be used to create a town park, which could serve as a place to host public and private events.

The town plans to schedule public hearings in the coming months as part of the permitting process. The relocation is planned for spring 2015.

Correction: An earlier version of the map provided the incorrect location of where the lighthouse will be moved.