Aquinnah takes ownership of Gay Head Light

Aquinnah voters gather for annual town meeting Tuesday where they will be asked to help preserve Gay Head light — File photo by Steve Myrick

The town of Aquinnah took ownership of the Gay Head Light on Friday, Feb. 20, removing a legal hurdle and clearing the way for the town to move the historic lighthouse away from the quickly eroding Gay Head cliffs.

“This is a great and historic day for the town of Aquinnah, the Wampanoag Tribe, the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, and especially for the iconic Gay Head Light,” the Save the Gay Head Light Committee said in a statement. “It is now assured to keep on shining for generations to come.”

The General Services Administration, the agency that manages the property of the U.S. government, transferred the deed to the town for the sum of $1.

The deed says the federal government does “hereby grant, give, remise, and release, without covenants, warranties, or representations of any kind or nature” the title to the red brick and sandstone lighthouse built in 1856.

The transfer follows the crafting of a complex memorandum of agreement between the town of Aquinnah, the General Services Administration, the National Park Service, the Massachusetts Historic Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah (Gay Head). The memorandum is part of the process of transferring ownership of the lighthouse under the National Historic Lighthouse Protection Act, and includes terms for future management and maintenance of the property.

The bargain price of $1 comes with a far more expensive responsibility. The town plans to move the lighthouse about 135 feet southeast of its current location, a spot it believes will be more stable, according to geological surveys.

The Save the Gay Head Light Committee has raised $2.5 million toward its goal of the $3 million needed to finance the project, according to Mitzi Pratt, co-chairman of the group’s fundraising committee. In their annual town meeting last year, Aquinnah voters approved $90,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to help pay for the project. Voters in the five other Island towns approved a total of $500,000 in CPA funds to help finance the move.

Preliminary site work is scheduled to begin as soon as the winter weather allows, with the actual relocation of the structure scheduled for May.