Members of a town committee charged with organizing the move of the Gay Head Light learned this week that they are not alone in their plight during a presentation about a project to move the Sankaty Head Light on Nantucket six years ago.
At the Gay Head Light committee meeting Wednesday, Sconset Trust president Bob Felch and his wife, Marianne, described the project that involved three years of planning before the lighthouse was moved in 2007. Siasconset is a village at the eastern end of Nantucket. Just like at Gay Head, severe erosion led to the need to move the lighthouse there.
The town of Aquinnah is preparing to take ownership of the Gay Head Light sometime this year, once the U.S. Coast Guard declares it surplus property. The transfer is allowed under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The lighthouse now stands less than 50 feet from the edge of the clay cliffs. The cost to move it is currently estimated at $2.5 million.
On Wednesday Mr. and Mrs. Felch described the project to move the Sankaty Head Light 400 feet back from the cliff onto a donated piece of land on an adjacent golf course. The mover was International Chimney Company, the same company being considered for the Gay Head Light move and in use for the Shifter house move on Chappaquiddick. Mr. Felch said a series of cross beams were threaded through the lighthouse just above the foundation. The original foundation was left behind. International Chimney poured concrete into air space within the walls of the structure to shore it up for the move. The move took 10 days to complete.
The light now stands seven feet lower in elevation than in its original location. The average rate of erosion on the cliff near the Sankaty Light was three feet per year until the time of its move, Mr. Felch said.
“What was important to us was that you could still see this,” Mr. Felch said.
He said there was islandwide support for the move.
“You know it’s there and it’s a part of history,” he said. “It’s all about preservation.”
The Sankaty Head Light was given to the nonprofit Nantucket Historical Association by the Coast Guard through targeted legislation introduced by the late Cong. Gerry Studds. The trust later took ownership.
The move and restoration was funded largely through private donations. Fund-raising efforts were aided by two $1 million gifts, 20 gifts of $100,000 and 930 other gifts from a public campaign. About $525,000 came from Community Preservation Act monies. The trust raised a total of $4.5 million. The move and restoration cost $2.5 million, and the remaining money went toward an endowment fund for the lighthouse. Mr. Felch said the trust anticipates using some of the funds in the endowment to fight erosion on the property. “We’re rooting for you,” Mrs. Felch told the Gay Head Light committee.