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West Chop Lighthouse

West Chop lighthouse

Tisbury, Massachusetts
Built in 1817


Located northwest of Vineyard Haven, in Martha's Vineyard, marking the western side of the entrance to the harbor.

Latitude: 41° 28' 51" N
Longitude: 70° 35' 59" W


Historic Stories:

West Chop was primarily a sheep pasture until it grew into an exclusive summer resort in the late 1800s from the booming business of whaling and fishing trades.

Captain James Shaw West, a long-time resident of the town, was hired to be the first keeper of the light. Keeper West and his wife Charlotte were the parents of nine children when they moved into the lighthouse, where they had two more children while stationed there.

early West Chop light 1847 construction
1847 Construction
Vintage Image Courtesy
US Coast Guard

Keeper James West served for nearly three decades at the West Chop Lighthouse before resigning in 1847.

He was replaced by Charles West (not a son of James). Charles West stayed at the lighthouse until 1868, when his son, also named Charles, succeeded him. Charles, Jr. served until 1909, as this father and son made their combined stay at the lighthouse for 62 years.

In 1877, a schooner carrying a load of bricks ran aground near the lighthouse in 1877, where the captain had the crew throw tons of bricks overboard so the vessel could float. The bricks were observed for many years on the bottom at low tide.

Because so many large houses were being built by wealthy business people, sea captains, and the like in the late 1800’s, mariners were having trouble viewing the lighthouse.

Petitions were gathered asking for a new higher tower to replace the old tower, which was constructed in 1891. early West Chop lighthouse early construction
1891 Construction
Image Courtesy US Coast Guard


Flying Santa Edward Rowe Snow Makes Keeper's Daughter Happy

In 1946, lighthouse keepers and their families on Martha's Vinyard were the recipients of special presents from the famous Flying Santa, Edward Rowe Snow, a tradition where he would deliver gifts to lighthouse families all over the country as a thank you for their service. Snow used a helicopter to deliver the bundles and in 1946, attempted to drop a bundle to Keeper Octave Ponsart's family, one of which was a doll for his daughter Seaborn. Unfortunately, the doll broke inside the bundle that was dropped. However, upon hearing of the incident, Snow repurchased a new doll, and personally delivered it to the happy little girl.

Note: For more details about Edward Rowe Snow, and the tradition of the Flying Santas, select the link "Flying Santa Edward Rowe Snow" Blog at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories section.



Places to Visit:

Vineyard Haven, also known as and is incorporated by Tisbury, is a quiet resort community on the northern shore of Martha's Vineyard with many elegant homes built by the wealthy in the 19th and 20th centuries, along with fine restaurants, specialty shops, and great views of Vineyard Haven Harbor.

For those who want to camp on the island visit the Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground in Vineyard Haven.

Following West Chop Road, you can take photos of the lighthouse from the street, but the grounds are private property.

You can view the two keeper houses by the light, surrounded by a white picket fence. West Chop light with keeper houses

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society hosts a series of events for visitors.

In West Tisbury nearby, you can relax at the Polly Hill Arboretum known as Martha’s Vineyard’s “horticultural and botanical landmark”.

For those who are interested in horseback riding, you can find riding lessons at the Arrowhead Farm.




Martha's Vineyard Ferries and Bus Tours

Ferries listed don’t pass by the lighthouse, but provide services to get to the island of Martha’s Vineyard, or between the islands.

Ferry from New Bedford to Martha’s Vineyard
49 State Pier
New Bedford, MA 02740
(800) 262-8743


Hy-Line Cruises to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard
Hyannis-Oak Bluffs ferry; also Nantucket-Oak Bluffs ferry.
220 Ocean Street Dock
Hyannis, Massachusetts 02601
Information: (508) 778-2600
Oak Bluffs (508) 693-0112
Hyannis-Nantucket ferry (508) 778-2602


Island Queen
Ferry from Falmouth, Mass.
297 Dillingham Avenue,
Falmouth, MA 02540.
Phone (508) 548-4800.


Steamship Authority
Ferries to both islands
Vehicle Reservations Call: (508) 477-8600
Office Hours or (508) 693-9130
Fast Ferry Reservations: (508) 495-FAST (3278)
Woods Hole: (508) 548-3788
Vineyard Haven: (508) 693-0367
Oak Bluffs: (508) 693-0125
Hyannis: (508) 771-4000
Nantucket: (508) 228-0262


Rhode Island to Martha's Vineyard Fast Ferry
Ferry from Quonset Point, Rhode Island to Oak Bluffs Marina on a high-speed catamaran.
North Kingstown, RI 02852
Phone: 401-295-4040
Fax: 401-295-4930


Martha's Vineyard Tours
Bus and trolley tours of the island.
(508) 693-1555
508-627-TOUR (8687)
Charters 508-693-4681


Books to Explore

Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions and tours. Lots of photos and map illustrations.

Look inside!

book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England




book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

To order a signed paperback copy:

Available also from bookstores in paperback, hardcover, and as an eBook for all devices.

my ebook on apple books

The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships:
Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted Coal Schooners of New England

In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants of sail were built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies, and measured longer than a football field!

This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships. You'll find many of these events occurred while sailing around the dangerous shoals of Cape Cod and the islands during stormy weather.




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