Coast Guard Senior Chief Steve Barr knows that he lives in a special place.
“On a good stormy night looking out from the lighthouse, with the waves crashing below and sheets of rain coming down all around in flashes, illuminated by the light . . . there’s nothing like it,” he said.
It’s probably one of the most photographed homesteads on the Island, “if not the most photographed,” Mr. Barr said of the West Chop Lighthouse property where he lives with his wife Andrea and their infant son.
As senior chief, Mr. Barr had a choice during the four years he’s stationed at Menemsha to live in any of eight homes on the Island owned by the Coast Guard.
He and his wife chose the lighthouse property, where they have been living (in the main house) for two years now.
Like any residence, Mr. Barr said, the place has its ups and downs.
“It’s great in many ways,” he said. “The property is gorgeous, and the beach is right there, although you can’t see the water from the house except from the two bathrooms.”
In fact, there are no other windows facing the water.
“I guess back in 1848 no one thought about a water view,” he said. “It would just be another aspect that would rob the house of heat, the wind coming up off the sea.”
You can definitely feel the history in the house, Mr. Barr said.
“With the old steam cast iron radiators, it’s like a steamship.” The radiators are surprisingly efficient in heating, he added, more so than a lot of more modern heating systems.
There is something poetic about living in a place with such a rich past, Mr. Barr reflected: “It’s humbling, really. We’re just one little dot on a timeline, just one family out of so many who’ve lived here in a hundred and fifty years of history. We’re just visitors.”
Mr. Barr and his wife care-take the property to some degree. “We cut the grass and maintain the grounds,” he said.
“But the lighthouse itself is automated,” Mr. Barr said. Also, he’s not certified to work on the lighthouse systems. That comes under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Team in Woods Hole.
On a rare occasion, if the need arises, one of the technicians from Woods Hole might fix a problem by giving Mr. Barr play-by-play instructions over the radio. “Like, on a beautiful sunny beach day in July when the horn won’t turn off.”
The foghorn is set to go off every 30 seconds, “but it’s a low, somber baritone. We don’t even notice it anymore . . . And, no, it doesn’t wake the baby,” he said with a chuckle.
It can scare away renters in the next cottage, though: “Occasionally there’ll be some people in there on vacation, and a few times we’ve seen them pack it up and move out after a day or two.”
On the annoyance scale, Mr. Barr says the bell buoy a quarter mile out is another story: “That clanging all night on a rough night can be trying.”
Unlike many lighthouses, West Chop Lighthouse is not open to the public.
But Mr. Barr and his wife are graciously accommodating of photographers and painters who come knocking on their door asking to set up an easel or tripod, and they occasionally give tours, to classes from local schools, for example.
He did say it can be difficult maintaining privacy: “It’s not uncommon to see camera flashes going off at night, or people standing out front, sometimes even looking in the windows.”
The irony is, he said, “We’re really quiet people and don’t like to be the center of attention.” Now, especially, with Andrea at home caring for their baby, Isaac, a little more privacy would be welcome.
“We’re blessed to be living where we are, and we’ve met some great folks in the neighborhood,” Mr. Barr said, but the family will be ready to move on when the time comes, in two years.