The move of the iconic Gay Head lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard got underway late this morning, about two weeks ahead of schedule. The 400-ton brick structure, which had stood just 46 feet from the eroding cliffs, is expected to reach its new foundation, 134 feet away, by Saturday.
As the move began, Len Butler stood along the fence cordoning off the press from the work site. He’s a member of the Save Gay Head Light Committee. Behind him, Gay Head Light stood ready for its short but critical journey—the enormous brick structure now balanced on a crisscross network of beams and hydraulic equipment. Butler said the day has been a long time coming.
“This is the day I’ve been dreaming of,” he said. “Once this lighthouse is over on its new foundation, I will start to sleep a lot better. But it has been a long process—many, many meetings, many consultations, many presentations. It’s all culminating now with this move."
Just before noon, the lighthouse began to move—slowly and imperceptibly, along two specially constructed rails. The movement is controlled by a sophisticated system of pistons and hydraulics. The relocation will occur in five-foot increments. After each five-foot transit, contractors need two hours or so to reset the rails underneath.
Eventually, lighthouse keeper Richard Skidmore came to the edge of the fence to announce that there would not be any more movement for a couple of hours. With that, the contractors broke for lunch before tackling the next five-foot run. They hope to have the Gay Head Lighthouse to its new site by Saturday.