Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse
A jewel of the Elizabeth Islands, the Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse has been a landmark for ships on the Vineyard Sound for four centuries. Steeped with history, it is the only remaining lighthouse in the Elizabeth Islands. The original lighthouse was erected in 1759, making the Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse the fourth light built off of the New England coast after Boston (1716), Newport (1740), and Brant Point (1746).
The present Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse was built in 1891 and played a critical role in the East Coast shipping industry. In the 19th century, its role (and that of its predecessor) was crucial: marking passage on the Vineyard Sound, which was considered the world’s second busiest shipping passage of that era (after the English Channel) and one of the most dangerous. And although the lighthouse was able to warn sailors off the Naushon shoreline, hundreds of vessels were none-the-less drawn sideways onto the shoals by the unexpected tidal currents of the Sound. (The complexity of these currents, combined with the challenges of heavy commercial traffic, inspired George Eldridge, Jr. to chart the direction and speed of the Vineyard Sound currents as a guide for all area captains. These charts, dating back to the 1870‘s, evolved into The Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book published annually today.)
Automated by the Coast Guard in 1941, the Tarpaulin Cove Light Station (as it was then renamed) continued to serve as an active aid to navigation, but without the assistance of a lighthouse keeper.
In 2001, under a twenty-five year license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Cuttyhunk Historical Society became the caretaker for the Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse site and structure. The lighthouse, a registered National Historical Site, is considered an excellent example of late 19th century lighthouse design and construction.
Note about the Cuttyhunk Lighthouse: Built in 1823 on the west end of the island, Cuttyhunk’s lighthouse was later replaced by a steel tower in 1947 and ultimately removed in 2006. Today, the crumbling shell of its foundation and the roofless supply house are all that remain.
Cuttyhunk Historical Society
P.O. Box 181
23 Tower Hill Road
Cuttyhunk, MA 02713
Please specify “Lighthouse Fund” on your check memo. Or click here for a downloadable form.
CHS Monograph on the Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse
(Revised Spring, 2003; intro by long-time Naushon summer resident Paul Elias).
“A Brief History of Naushon”
by Alice Forbes Howland
from Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth Islands, edited by Janet Bosworth