The relocation of the iconic Gay Head Lighthouse moved ahead much faster and more smoothly than anyone expected. Although much more work remains to be done at the site, the hard part – moving the 400-ton brick structure to its new location – is now complete. And a number of people were on hand to witness the event.
By Saturday morning, the lighthouse already was within a few yards of its new home – a cement foundation 134 feet from its previous location, where it sat dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. Rick Pomroy is Project Manager for the move.
“We’re gonna do two more pushes, and we’ll be over dead center on the foundation slab,” Pomroy said. “And at that point, we’ll spend a lotta time leveling out the lighthouse and then lowering it down. We have a center column to go into support the spire of the lighthouse. We’ll have a big celebration here…we’ve got some champagne for everybody, and we’re looking forward to a joyous day.”
Nearby, two steel “traveler” beams slowly slid forward over the new cement foundation.
“That’s the rail system that the lighthouse is moving on,” Pomroy explained. “There’s a roller system that sits on those traveler beams, and there’s hydraulic pistons at the rear of the assembly pushes the lighthouse into its position.”
At the foot of a driveway leading up to the move site, onlookers waited behind a metal fence. One of them was Beverly Wright, a former Aquinnah Selectman and Chairman of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee.
“It’s fantastic. I mean, the Committee has worked 2-1/2 years. The Town was very supportive…voted it unanimously to save the lighthouse, even though they didn’t have any idea what the cost was going to be,” Wright said.
And it wasn’t just locals. Brian Hays drove up from New Jersey to be here.
“Well, I’ve been tracking this move. And the scramble to get a ferry reservation and to get a room up here…It didn’t matter; we would have slept in the car. We’ve been looking forward to this so long,” said Hays.
Off to one side was a yellow truck. A panel at the rear of the truck controls the operation, with hydraulic hose attachments, pressure gauges, and a large lever that started each new five-foot push. As Lighthouse Keeper Richard Skidmore explained to the crowd how everything worked, the power suddenly revved up.
“Here that sound?” Skidmore asked the crowd “That is the sound we wanna hear, because that means fairly soon, there’s gonna be some movement goin’ on.”
Workers used a decidedly low-tech method to make sure the movement stayed on track. It’s called a “plumb bob” - a string with a weight that keeps the string taut. The plumb bob hangs from the center support column of the lighthouse, and precisely follows a red line drawn on the concrete foundation. Its destination is a nail driven dead center into the new foundation.
Len Butler is Chairman of the Relocation Committee of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee. He’s a contractor by trade, with an upbeat enthusiasm that came through as began an impromptu auction.
“Now this is a momentous occasion. If you wanna be part of history, we thought it might be a good idea, since we still need to raise some more money, if anybody out there wants to bid on the honor of moving it the last 40 inches, I’m startin’ the bidding at $100,” he said jokingly.
Eventually, Beverly Wright came in with the winning bid of $1,000.
Beverly made her way over to the panel at the rear of the yellow truck. She pushed up the big lever, and started the Gay Head Lighthouse on the final few feet of its journey.
Over at the new foundation, Len Butler and some other contractors intently monitored the plumb bob as it inched along the red line in the cement towards its final mark.
Butler slowly counted down the last few inches.
“Three.…two….one little inch….STOP!” And with that, a wave of applause erupted from the crowd. The Gay Head Light was finally home.
Like a conquering hero, Len climbed atop the jumble of crisscross beams and girders, and triumphantly lifted a bubbling bottle of champagne high in the air.
“Well, I think it’s only fitting that we christen this historic moment, and all give a cheer for the final location of the Gay Head Light,” he shouted to the cheering crowd below.
Workers still have about another month of backfilling and landscaping before the lighthouse re-opens to the public. That’s expected to happen sometime in July.
Len Butler had a final word of thanks to the crowd.
“Thanks for bein’ part of history, everybody.”