Beacons of History

They stand tall and straight on the horizon, an enduring symbol of the Island’s long and rich maritime history. Viewed from a distance, the Edgartown and East Chop lighthouses convey a sense of strength and of purpose.

Until recently, however, closer looks would have inspired less appreciation.

In the nineteen eighties, the Coast Guard stopped funding the maintenance of the lighthouses. Soon time and weather took their toll on the old cast-iron structures.

Electrical wiring stuck out of the East Chop Light. The lighthouse needed new windows and steel railings, not to mention overdue exterior painting.

Conditions were worse at the Edgartown Lighthouse. The lantern at the top was held in place by rusty bolts dating back more than a century. Toxic paint covered the cast-iron panels in the structure’s interior, which was dank and damp. Windows below the lighthouse beacon were covered by plywood and painted to look real.

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum, charged with the care of the lighthouses, lacked the money to refurbish the structures. The museum did pay for engineering work for the renovation in case funds eventually became available.

Thanks to the community preservation committees in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, and the voters of those towns, they did.

Since late summer renovations have been under way. East Chop Light shines with a new coat of paint, the exterior sprawl of wiring destined for burial underground. The toxic paint inside the Edgartown Lighthouse has been sandblasted away. A new spiral staircase is slated to repair the steep ladder that now leads to the beacon that once guided mariners into the Edgartown harbor. New windows will grace the lanterns of both lighthouses.

The work comes at a cost: one hundred forty thousand dollars for East Chop and two hundred fifty thousand dollars for Edgartown.

The money has been well spent. And now the newly refurbished lighthouses will continue to stand tall and true for many years to come.