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William Waterway

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1799 Stone Foundation for Martha's Vineyard's First Lighthouse Discovered

The island of Martha's Vineyard is located next to an area of hazardous submerged rocks known as "Devil's Bridge." Devil's Bridge claimed the lives of many sailors. In 1799 the newly formed government of the United States built the first of six lighthouses on the island. On October 21, 2013 - environmental historian and photographer, William Waterway discovered the foundation that once supported the wooden 1799 lighthouse.

Aquinnah, MA, October 25, 2013 --( Discovery of 1799 Gay Head Lighthouse Foundation

Gay Head Lighthouse historian and researcher, William Waterway, discovered the 1844 stone foundation for the original wooden Gay Head Lighthouse that was built in 1799. Mr. Waterway is currently writing a book about the Gay Head Lighthouse to be published by History Press in early 2014.

“This discovery is of major importance to the history of the Gay Head Lighthouse, and to the present effort to save the existing lighthouse,” said Mr. Waterway. “This 1844 stone foundation was built to hold the original 1799 wooden Gay Head Lighthouse when it was moved back 75 feet from the eroding cliffs edge,” says Mr. Waterway. “With this discovery, we will now be able to calculate the rate of erosion of the Gay Head Cliffs from 1799 to the present time. This is the first time in history for us to have such empirical evidence as an historic reference point.”

The current brick Gay Head Lighthouse replaced the original 1799 wooden lighthouse in 1856. Today, the Gay Head Lighthouse is threatened by erosion, and was recently placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list as one of the “11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.”

Mr. Waterway is no stranger to the Gay Head Lighthouse - in the 1980s, his nonprofit organization, Vineyard Environmental Research, Inst. (VERI), was the first civilian organization in U.S. history to receive control of “active” lighthouses from the United States Coast Guard. In the 1980s, the U.S. Coast Guard was planning to disassemble the Gay Head Lighthouse and replace it with a steel skeleton topped off with a strobe light. Mr. Waterway’s effort to save the lighthouse received the support of Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman Gerry Studds. After giving testimony before Congress, Mr. Waterway’s organization, VERI, received control of three endangered Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses via a unique 35-year license with the US Coast Guard.

Today, an island-wide effort is underway on Martha’s Vineyard to raise $3 million to move the threatened Gay Head Lighthouse to a safe location.

For more information:
William Waterway: 508-627-4929
5 Pleasant Ave., Edgartown, MA 02539
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