West Chop Light

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West Chop Light
West Chop Lighthouse Martha's Vineyard Ma.jpg
LocationTisbury, Massachusetts
Coordinates41°28′50.87″N 70°35′59.21″W / 41.4807972°N 70.5997806°W / 41.4807972; -70.5997806Coordinates: 41°28′50.87″N 70°35′59.21″W / 41.4807972°N 70.5997806°W / 41.4807972; -70.5997806
Constructionbrick Edit this on Wikidata
Height45 feet (14 m)
ShapeConical tower
HeritageNational Register of Historic Places listed place Edit this on Wikidata
Fog signalHorn: 1 every 30s
Focal height84 feet (26 m)
Rangewhite 14 nautical miles (26 km; 16 mi), red 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi)
CharacteristicOcculting white, 4s, red sector
West Chop Light Station
Area4 acres (1.6 ha)
MPSLighthouses of Massachusetts TR
NRHP reference No.87001506[1]
Added to NRHPJune 15, 1987

West Chop Light is a lighthouse station located at the entrance of Vineyard Haven Harbor in Tisbury, Massachusetts on the northern tip of West Chop, a few miles from the village of Vineyard Haven.[2]

The first 25-foot (7.6 m) rubblestone lighthouse and dwelling were built on the bluffs of West Chop in 1817.[3] Following constant erosion, the lighthouse was moved back in 1830, and again in 1846.[4]

The first lightkeeper was pilot James Shaw West who tended the light for thirty years, from 1818 to 1848. His pay was $350 a year. Subsequent lightkeepers were Charles West, 1849–1868; his son Charles P. West, 1869-c1909; George F. Dolby (1909–1919); James Yates (1919-?); and Octave Ponsart (1946–1956) Sam Fuller has also been mentioned as a lightkeeper.[5]

The present 45-foot (14 m) tall brick tower and dwelling were built in 1891.[6] In 1976 West Chop Light became the last Martha's Vineyard lighthouse to be automated, but the original Fresnel lens is still in operation. The former lightkeeper's dwellings are now vacant but remains property of the U.S. Coast Guard and off limits to the public.

The West Chop Light Station has been on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places since 1987.[1]

First lightkeeper[edit]

Captain James Shaw West (1777–1859), the first lightkeeper, was born December 11, 1777 in Tisbury, Massachusetts, the eldest son of Captain Jeruel West and Deborah Shaw of Frog Alley, Tisbury. He was married to Charlotte Hammond (1781–1849) of Falmouth, Massachusetts.[7] West was listed in the records first as a "mariner" and later as a "pilot." He and his wife first lived in the area of the "Neck" of West Chop which is now Hatch Road.

Shortly after the erection of the first West Chop Light in 1817, they sold this property and presumably moved into the lightkeeper's dwelling adjacent to the lighthouse. (In 1842, they purchased a 30-acre (12 ha) lot known as the "Point Lot" which surrounded the lighthouse property.)[8] West was the lightkeeper of the West Chop Light for thirty years. During his term as lightkeeper, West oversaw the installation of new lamps in 1829, and in 1846 the lighthouse was rebuilt and moved away from the eroding bluffs, and a new dwelling built. (The old dwelling was given to his youngest son Gustavus and moved to Music Street, West Tisbury.)[8]

In late 1847, West bought a home across the street from the Methodist Church in Holmes Hole and the following year retired from his position as lightkeeper and moved to their new home in town. West was about sixty years old upon his retirement. His wife Charlotte died the following year, in 1849. Later records call West variously a "mariner" and a "gentleman." "James Shaw West" was listed as a licensed inn-holder in Holmes Hole and ran the "County House," but it is unclear whether this was lightkeeper James or his eldest son, James Junior. In 1859 James Senior died of "palsy" at the age of 81. His children included Captain Abner West (co-inventor of the Holmes & West Harpoon[9]) and Captain David Porter West (1814–1886) (a whaling captain and a scholar of Japan in the 1850s.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ United States Coast Guard (2009). Light List, Volume I, Atlantic Coast, St. Croix River, Maine to Shrewsbury River, New Jersey. p. 117.
  3. ^ West Chop Lighthouse History
  4. ^ Banks, Charles E. The History of Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Vol. II. (Dukes County Historical Society)
  5. ^ Tisbury People by Stan Lair(1902-1987)
  6. ^ Twin Lights Publishers (January 2004). New England's Lighthouses: A Photographic Portrait. Twin Lights Publishers. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-885435-50-7. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  7. ^ Banks, Charles E. The History of Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Vol. III. (Dukes County Historical Society)
  8. ^ a b Descendants of Capt. James Shaw West (1777-1859) of Tisbury, MA
  9. ^ Two Flue Irons