Seventy-five years ago today, the Gazette reported that the new Edgartown Lighthouse was lit for the first time.
“The Edgartown Light was illuminated for the first time last night, brighter and more useful than the old light,” the Gazette reported on June 16, 1939. Victor Danberg was named the caretaker. The light was automatic, the Gazette reported, but Mr. Danberg would turn the fog bell on and off.
The Edgartown Light was authorized by an act of Congress in 1828.
The land for the lighthouse was acquired on July 30, 1828 by Seth Vincent for $80. Congress allocated $4,400 for the new lighthouse, which was a two-and-a-half story dwelling with a light at the top.
The original lighthouse, a quarter of a mile out on the harbor and accessible by a walkway, was lit with whale oil.
But in 1938, the lighthouse was in disrepair, and the Coast Guard discussed demolishing the lighthouse and replacing it with a prefabricated steel tower. The town rallied against the idea, and in the end, the original Edgartown Lighthouse was replaced in 1939 by an 1875 cast iron conical light floated in by barge from Ipswich in Essex County.
The light sits on a masonry base, rising 45 feet from the water level. There are three windows and four portholes.
In 1970, the town acquired the surrounding land, which is now Lighthouse Beach. And after the Coast Guard declared the Edgartown Light surplus property in 2012, the town took over ownership earlier this year. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum is the steward of the lighthouse.
A May 1939 editorial took up the idea of whether the Edgartown Harbor Light should be painted with a spiral black stripe.
“There would seem to be but one satisfactory course: let the tower be white,” the editorial read. “White against the blue water for the town to look upon. White like the whaling captains’ houses for the harbor to look upon when it is filled with yachts in summer. Nathaniel S. Shaler once wrote that he never thought so well of the uses of white paint as when he saw Edgartown, and many visitors have had the same feeling.”