Last Visited: October, 2003
The East Chop Light was built in 1878 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. In the early 1800s the location was occupied by a semaphore station - thus the origin of the name "Telegraph Hill." Circa 1869 a marine merchant named Captain Silas Daggett constructed a privately owned lighthouse on the property. To pay for construction and maintenance, Daggett collected fees from local merchants, maritime insurance agencies, and ship owners who benefitted from the light as an aid-to-navigation. Daggett's 1869 lighthouse was the last of the five lighthouses to be constructed on Martha's Vineyard. The oil-fired East Chop Light burned down in 1871. The light was rebuilt by Daggett in 1872 as a house with a protruding lantern room - similar in concept to the first Edgartown Harbor Light. Daggett's new East Chop Light produced a red signal and had three 21-inch reflectors fueled by kerosene lamps. In 1875 the United States Congress purchased the property for $6,000 and removed the lighthouse and other buildings constructed by Daggett. In 1878 the present day cast-iron conical tower with a fourth-order Fresnel lens was constructed along with an adjacent two-story gabled roof keeper's house. The lighthouse was originally painted white, but was repainted as a brown-red color in the 1880s. The brown-red color was maintained until 1988, when the light was painted white by Vineyard Environmental Research, Institute (VERI). Many people in the East Chop community and elsewhere still harbor fond memories of their "Chocolate Lighthouse." In 1933 the East Chop Light was automated. At the time, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) offered to rent the Keeper's dwelling to long time Keeper, George Walter Purdy. Purdy, who had one arm, served as the East Chop Light's Principal Keeper for thirty-two years. Purdy refused the offer, and shortly afterwards, the Keeper's dwelling, fuel oil shed, and other out buildings were torn down. Without a Keeper on the lighthouse grounds, the USCG closed the East Chop Light to public access.
From 1878 through the early 1980s, the East Chop Light was maintained by the United States Coast Guard. Due to U. S. Coast Guard Congressional funding shortages through the 1970s and early 1980s, various lighthouses around the United States were destroyed or designated for destruction. Such designation was due to the high cost of maintaining the structures, and because the lights no longer served as vital aids to navigation. This obsolete status of the lighthouses was facilitated by enhanced satellite GPS and other electrical maritime navigation aids. In fact, according to the 2012 "Doomsday List" published by Lighthouse Digest, there are currently 43 lighthouses in the U.S. listed for destruction in the near future. Due to such funding shortages, the East Chop Light and two other Martha's Vineyard lighthouses (Gay Head Light and Edgartown Harbor Light) were designated for destruction in the early 1980s. These three island lights were saved through federal petition and Congressional testimony of Vineyard Environmental Research, Inst, (VERI) Founder/President, William Waterway Marks, and, Chair, John F. Bitzer, Jr. During and after the Congressional hearings, this effort received support from Congressman Gerry Studds, and Senator Ted Kennedy. Shortly after the Congressional hearings, the United States Coast Guard issued a 35-year license for the three lights to VERI in 1985.
Public access to the East Chop Light was closed after its automation in 1933. For the first time in fifty-five years, Vineyard Environmental Research, Inst., opened the light to limited public access in 1988. This public access was allowed after VERI made extensive restoration and safety alterations of the light's interior and exterior, including an elevated lighting room exterior balcony guardrail. The extent of public access was determined after VERI held meetings with abutting property owners and the East Chop Association. As a result, VERI allowed public access to the light every Sunday during the summer season, and on special occasions such as weddings and fundraisers. This "Sunday's only" public access policy remains in place under the light's current management by the Martha's Vineyard Museum.
Click here for a photo of the lighthouse form the mid-1970's before it was painted white. Yes, that's me as a skinny little kid in the photo.
Nearest Address: 231 E Chop Dr, Vineyard Haven, MA
- From the ferry landing in Oak Bluffs, go straight onto Lake Ave, heading towards Vineyard Haven.
- In 0.3 miles turn right onto East Chop Dr.
- Stay on the road for about a mile and you'll arrive at the lighthouse.
View Larger Map