From the July 6, 1984 edition of the Gazette:

The Cape Pogue light stands on a windswept point on the extreme northeastern tip of Chappaquiddick Island. It is a wood frame tower whose white painted shingles are crusted with salt and sand and time.

This lighthouse has flashed its warning beacon to mariners since 1893 — always from the same tower, not always from the same spot. The tip of Cape Pogue is constantly assaulted by the sea which eats away large chunks of the high bluff each year.

The lighthouse has been moved many times in the last 91 years, most recently in 1960. Now the historic structure is threatened once again as the ocean continued to pound at the shore below, eroding the sand cliffs. The coarse beach grass and rosa rugosa cling to the surface of the cliff, their subsoil undercut again and again by the sea.

The Cape Pogue light has a rich history, which was recently chronicled by Arthur R. Railton in a three-part series which appeared in the Dukes County Intelligencer, published quarterly by the Dukes County Historical Society.

Mr. Railton writes: “The history of Cape Poge Light is a story of human courage, independence and dedication. It is the story of a penny-pinching government agency that seemed almost heartless in its attitude, an agency that showed little understanding of the problems faced by keepers, as at Cape Poge, who lived in remote stations, miles from their closest neighbors.”

Cape Pogue is spelled two ways, Poge and Pogue. The Algonquin word is Pogue, but the earliest cartographers misspelled it as Poge when they first mapped the sandy arm which reaches off the northeastern wide of Chappquiddick to form Cape Pogue Bay.

The first lighthouse at Cape Pogue was built in 1801. It was the Vineyard’s second lighthouse, built about two years after the Gay Head Light had begun to operate. Congress appropriated $2,000 on January 30, 1801 to build a lighthouse and dwelling on the extreme northeastern tip of Chappaquiddick.

The first keeper was Matthew Mayhew, who moved into the lighthouse with his family.

Keeper Mayhew made $200 a year. The first lighthouse at Cape Pogue was lit with a primitive spider lamp which had eight wicks and burned sperm oil. The lamp had no chimneys or reflectors, and was replaced in 1812 with a lamp designed by Capt. Winslow Lewis Mr. Railton describes the Lewis lamps as “a rather crude copy of the Argand lamp widely used in Europe, consisted of a silvered reflector inside which a wick lamp with a chimney was mounted.”

During the War of 1812 orders to extinguish the lighthouses came down from the government.

Keeper Mayhew’s log on Oct. 4, 1814 reported: “I have caused the light under my care to be Extinguist. The apparatus and other publick property I have removed about four the dwelling house of Mr. Samuel Huxford where they are deposited in his cellar.“

In 1825, after keeper Mayhew wrote the letter about his family falling down the cliff, the government authorized the moving of the lighthouse. The purchase of an additional four acres of land at Cape Pogue was also authorized, after keeper Mayhew reported only two acres were left of the original four. The land cost $20 an acre.

Keeper Mayhew died on Dec. 20, 1834. The new keeper could not get out to the lighthouse until Jan. 12 because of ice. During those three weeks a schooner from New York went aground and the captain and crew froze to death.

Mr. Railton wrote: “Had the light been operating? We do not know. We do know that the dependable, experienced keeper Mayhew was not there that night. He died three weeks before.

“For 34 years, one half his life, he had lived and worked on that lonely, isolated tip of land with his wife, raising eight children. No keeper after him would hold the post as long.”

The ocean continued to take over Cape Pogue. In its 1879 annual report the Light House Board said the four acres purchased in 1801, and the four more bought in 1825, had both washed away. Bu 1893 a new tower was authorized. It was called a “temporary tower,” and was built 40 feet inland from the old one. This is the lighthouse which still stands today.

By 1901, the lighthouse had a concentric-wick kerosene lamp which sent out a flashing beam.

In 1905 after a severe winter gale the keeper’s log noted that the tower stood 16 feet from the edge of the bluff. In 1907, the tower was moved.

In 1943 the light was automated, and at the end of World War II it was changed to a fixed white flasher powered by storage batteries, later changed to air-depolarized cells.

The empty keeper’s dwelling was sold in 1954 to Robert Marshall of Chappaquiddick, who tore it down and built cottages from the lumber.

In 1960 the tower was moved back 150 feet to its present side.

Mr. Railton writes: “There is no keeper out there now....But we must home that someone is watching and worrying about the tower, an ancient structure that has survived so long, and that has, inside its shingled walls, so much history.”

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox