Graves Lighthouse

Lighthouses – Showcasing New England’s Maritime History

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Preservation is of great importance to our nation, as it encourages people living in the present to blend with the past, forming a link between different time periods. That is why, during the month of May, we celebrate National Preservation Month, a grassroots campaign that spotlights preservation efforts in America.

The conservation of our lighthouses is present on the coastlines of  New England. They have been a major focus for our region since the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act was launched in 2000.

GSA, in partnership with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) & National Park Service, are the catalyst for ensuring these national treasures end up in the hands of capable and passionate stewards who will maintain these structures for future generations to discover.

To commemorate National Preservation Month, we’re focusing on four lighthouses that have either been sold at auction by GSA or given new stewards and are located in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut.

Perched atop cliffs at the western end of Martha’s Vineyard is Gay Head Lighthouse, a 160-year old, 400-ton landmark.

Gay Head Lighthouse

Gay Head Lighthouse

The story of this historic tower is unique, with it being relocated from the edge of the eroding Gay Head bluff a number of times. The original lighthouse was constructed in 1796 due to an increase in ship-traffic along the island. Approximately 45 years later, the octagonal wooden lighthouse was moved back from the edge of the bluff by 75 feet. After falling into disrepair, the Federal Lighthouse Board approved the construction of a new red-brick tower.

The USCG remained owners of the lighthouse for many years until August 2013, when they declared Gay Head as excess property to GSA. In March 2014, Aquinnah submitted an offer to take ownership and move the lighthouse away from the continuously eroding bluff. GSA coordinated the conveyance with its partners USCG, National Park Service, local community and preservation stakeholders.

In May 2015, the tower was raised six feet off the ground and relocated over a three-day period to its new foundation, where it remains an active aid for navigation.

Another lighthouse that remains an active aid for navigation is the Graves Lighthouse in Boston, Massachusetts. It is located 113 feet above the rocks of Graves Ledges, approximately nine miles offshore of downtown Boston. It was named after Thomas Graves, who initially noticed the danger posed to ships in the area in 1634. Completed in 1905, the lighthouse was built to guide larger vessels through the channel into Boston Harbor.

Graves Light was fully automated in 1976 and the Fresnel lens, which had been used for 70 years, was transported to the Smithsonian. The lighthouse was converted to solar energy in 2001. The granite structure was sold by GSA at auction in 2013 for $933,888 to a local businessman and preservationist.

Also sold at auction, a year before Graves Lighthouse, was Little Gull Island Lighthouse. Located at the eastern end of Long Island’s North Fork, this lighthouse went into operation in 1805. Rising 50 feet above the sea level, the lighthouse underwent both a war and a hurricane between 1812 and 1815.

During the War of 1812, British forces removed all the lamps and reflectors, putting the station out of service until the war ended. Two years later, in September of 1815, a hurricane blew through New England, greatly damaging the lighthouse. It was rebuilt and maintained for a number of years following, until it became fully automated in 1978.

In 2012, Little Gull Island Lighthouse was put up for auction by GSA and sold for $381,000 to a Connecticut businessman.

Not too far south from Little Gull Island is the New London Ledge Lighthouse in New London, Connecticut. Built in 1908 to address increased boat traffic to New London Harbor, this unique three-story, eleven room brick and granite structure was maintained by three man crews during its time in operation. It has survived the test of time, including the hurricane of 1938.

The last remaining manned lighthouse on Long Island Sound, it became fully automated in 1987. In 1988, New London Ledge was leased to the New London Ledge Lighthouse Foundation, a non-profit organization that would take school-aged children to the lighthouse to educate them about its maritime history. The foundation cleaned up, repaired and painted the lighthouse.

In 2014, GSA deeded this unique offshore light to the New London Maritime Society with the New London Ledge Preservation Society as its educational partner. The society now runs a public museum on-site staffed by volunteers.

To learn more, please visit the GSA Lighthouse Program

Last Reviewed: 2019-05-24