Be part of a new island tradition and help us restore and maintain the iconic Gay Head Lighthouse. The third annual Gay Head 10K race will be held on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, at 10 am. Click below for full race information and registration.
With the summer season picking up, managers for the Gay Head Light relocation project hope to have the site mostly restored by the Fourth of July. About half the excavated soil has been returned to the site and a new concrete-block foundation is nearly complete.
On May 30, the lighthouse came to rest about six feet above a large concrete pad, well east of the eroding Gay Head cliffs. A network of steel beams beneath the lighthouse was removed this week, leaving the 400-ton structure resting entirely on its new foundation.
Joe Scarfone, a project manager for International Chimney of Buffalo, N.Y., expected the remaining blockwork to be completed Monday, with workers filling in the spaces left by the beams. Eventually, he said, the space within the foundation will be filled with sand and gravel which will support a new concrete floor.
A large column now connects the central column of the lighthouse to the concrete pad below.
Once the new foundation is complete, two cables wrapped tightly around the granite base of the lighthouse will be removed. A wooden corset supporting the top of the lighthouse has already been removed. Mr. Scarfone said there was no indication that the original granite blocks had shifted during the project. “Normally, if they did you’d see a little hairline crack,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing. So it has worked out really well.”
Also on Monday workers are expected to begin pouring the remainder of a curved retaining wall that will surround most of the lighthouse. General manager Richard Pomroy said the wall had been left unfinished to allow for public viewing during the move. Most of the wall, along with the new foundation, will be covered when the excavated soil is returned to the site.
Mr. Pomroy hopes to see all the soil returned by July 2, and the site largely restored by July 4. “It’s going to be a very concentrated effort the week of [June] 29,” he said. John Keene Excavation of West Tisbury, which has already restored all of the clay west of the lighthouse, is the primary contractor for that portion of the project.
The removal of about 2,000 tons of clay from the town parking lot at the bottom of Aquinnah Circle, where it was being stored, has freed up about 20 parking spots. A large portion of the field within the Circle has been fenced off for additional parking. Beginning last weekend, all the spots will require a $10 fee with no time limit.
Aquinnah police chief Randhi Belain said Friday that the town would likely begin enforcing the one-hour time limit for the spots at the top of the Circle over the weekend. Ten residential spots at the bottom of the Circle are currently open to the public.
The path leading from the town lot to Moshup Beach has been closed, and foot traffic is being redirected to a path that begins at the Aquinnah Cultural Center. Both paths are usually open to the public. Once the remaining soil is removed from the town lot, parking and beach access will return to normal, Mr. Belain said.
As a nod to future generations, the Gay Head lighthouse committee is working to collect items for a time capsule that will be sealed within the lighthouse when it reopens. Suggested items, as posted on the committee’s Facebook page, include a brass ring, photos from weddings performed at the lighthouse, seeds, recipes and this year’s Aquinnah Shop T-shirt.
Mr. Pomroy hopes the lighthouse will reopen by the end of July. “But it will depend on landscaping and getting the area stabilized,” he said. On Friday, workers from Landscope Inc. of Edgartown were laying grass mats and installing a split-rail fence near the edge of the cliff. Landscaping will likely resume in July, after the excavators have left the site, Mr. Pomroy said.
by Alex Elvin
The town of Aquinnah will seek a cultural designation for the area around Aquinnah Circle, including the Gay Head Light, from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which promotes arts, sciences and humanities in the state. Gay Head lighthouse committee member Berta Welch told selectmen on Tuesday that the designation may also include the shops at Aquinnah Circle, the Aquinnah Cultural Center and Moshup Beach. The town may define what constitutes the district, although the state cultural council would need to approve the proposal following a site visit.
The effort began last year with a visit to the Island by cultural council director Anita Walker, who toured the Gay Head Light with lighthouse committee member Len Butler and Nancy Gardella, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.
Speaking for the chamber, the lighthouse committee, and also Arts Martha’s Vineyard, which helped establish a cultural district in Vineyard Haven last year, Ms. Gardella told the selectmen that all three groups would work to promote the new district.
While the Gay Head Light was being moved to safety last week, geologist Byron Stone was at the site working on a project of his own. A major excavation surrounding the lighthouse has revealed never before seen geologic layers that Mr. Stone, a researcher for the United States Geological Survey, hopes will shed light on how and when the Gay Head landscape was created. “Nobody knew that this was here,” Mr. Stone said last Thursday, as bulldozers rumbled around the site and workers prepared to move the lighthouse away from the eroding clay cliffs. Mr. Stone stood beside a large wall of soil, clay and rocks that extended the length of the excavation.
“When I saw the cut, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “These beds here are just spectacular.”
At the eastern end of the site, at the bottom of the exposure, about 15 feet of ancient white sand underlies several more feet of brown sand that Mr. Stone said indicates a former pond or lake. Both of those layers tilt about 80 degrees to the north, likely as a result of melting ice. Above the tilting layers, a relatively flat layer of cobble from an ancient riverbed supports yet another layer of brown sand from a later body of water. At the top of the exposure, about three feet of glacial till, peppered with rocks and boulders, is covered by a few inches of topsoil.
Mr. Stone’s attention focused mostly on the layer of till near the surface, which he says could help peg the date for when the last continental ice sheet retreated.
“We know now, from the excavation, that the till with boulders is at the top of the pile, and that’s proof for sure that the last ice sheet went over that pile,” Mr. Stone said. He added that boulders found within the glacial layer are just like the ones in the ocean to the east, which are known to have been left by the last ice sheet. The glacier is thought to have extended just south of Noman’s Land and Block Island.
After two and a half years of planning, it took only three days to move the lighthouse back from the cliffside brink.
On Saturday, the Gay Head Light reached its final stop on a 129-foot journey back from the site it had occupied since 1844, and which after more than a century of erosion was precariously close to the edge of the cliff.
After two and a half years of planning, fundraising, and many sleepless nights for those most intimately involved with the project to move the iconic structure, and three days of movement foot by foot along a steel track, the lighthouse was safe. The journey began on Thursday when workers with International Chimney Corp. and Expert House Movers began to move the historic beacon, while a crowd that included Island residents, visitors, and reporters gathered to watch.
The building, which weighs in at 400 tons, traveled along metal I-beams on a path chosen for both its elevation and for the stability of the clay. Project managers said they hope the new location will be stable for another 150 years.
Ahead of schedule, at 11:10 am Saturday morning, it was time to celebrate.
As a crowd of onlookers gathered, project leader Lenny Butler of Aquinnah popped the cork on a bottle of champagne, and smashed it against the lighthouse to the cheers of the crowd.
“Those three days during the move, I almost felt like I was in a dream state,” Mr. Butler said in a telephone conversation. “I was literally two feet off the ground the whole time.”
The lighthouse now rests on its granite foundation on a grid of steel beams above a concrete slab platform. The next step, Mr. Butler said, is to build a foundation to fill what is a six-foot gap between the bottom of the lighthouse and the slab.
Bricklayers will lay solid concrete blocks in between the support beams. Once the blocks have picked up the load, the beams will be removed and the remaining gaps filled in.
The lighthouse has been moved. It’s done, people. We did it. Of course there is some more money needed, so if you can donate and bring the project to its final close that would be helpful; you can go to savethegayheadlight.org to donate. A very big thank you to the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse committee: Beverly Wright, Meg Bodnar, Mitzi Pratt, Len Butler, Duncan Caldwell, Paula Eisenberg, Stefanie Hecht, Larry Hohlt, Marshall Lee, Betsey Mayhew, David Nathans, Kathy Newman, Jim Pickman, Robin Robinson, Martha Vanderhoop, and Berta Welch. Also a big thank you to lighthouse keeper Richard Skidmore and the Aquinnah CPC chair, Derrill Bazzy. It happened so fast I can’t believe it’s actually done. I hope you got up to the Cliffs to see it being moved, or that you followed the live feed of it. It was remarkable what was done. I went with my son’s class, and got to see the very first shift forward. If you want to get a good sense of the project, you can check out Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth’s time-lapse on YouTube of the move. It’s from a forthcoming documentary they are working on. Just search GayheadLighthouseDocumentary.com.
On Saturday evening there was a special potluck dinner at the Old Town Hall to thank the people who were responsible for moving the lighthouse. It was a jolly time. Isaac Taylor sang a beautiful song about the lighthouse called “Red Queen.” Champagne was popped and poured for Jerry Matyiko from Expert House Movers and all the other men who worked to move the lighthouse. The tables were set with lilacs from Mitzi Pratt’s garden, and there was even a cake with a lighthouse on it. It was such a sweet, happy gathering. I was told that Jerry (who has moved many lighthouses) has said that of all the lighthouses he’s moved, in no place has he enjoyed the people more than in Aquinnah.
by Molly Purves, Aquinnah Town columnist, MV Times
At 11:10 am on Saturday, May 30, 2015, the Gay Head Light ended its journey to its new, safer location.
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