The name "East Chop" was first used in 1646 by Martha's Vineyard's governor Thomas Mayhew, who referred to the area as the "Eastermost Chop of Homses [Holmes] Hole." The word "chop" had been used in England to signify the entrance to a channel, such as the "chops" of the English Channel.
There had been a lighthouse at West Chop, across the entrance to the harbor at Holmes Hole (the name was officially changed to Vineyard Haven in 1871) since 1817. A local mariner, Silas Daggett, lobbied for a lighthouse at East Chop, but the authorities apparently believed a single light was adequate for the harbor. In 1869, Daggett took it upon himself to erect a lighthouse at East Chop. He operated it privately for seven years, receiving donations from local merchants for the upkeep of the light.
Daggett's lighthouse burned down in 1871 and was rebuilt as a light on top of a house. The Lighthouse Board's 1873 annual report revealed plans for a proper lighthouse:
On March 3, 1875, Congress appropriated $5,000 for the lighthouse. The old structure was removed, and Daggett returned to his life at sea.
A conical cast-iron lighthouse tower, 40 feet tall, was erected in 1878, along with a one-and-a-half-story keeper's house. A fourth-order Fresnel lens, with its focal plane 79 feet above mean high water, originally showed a fixed light; it was changed to flashing red in 1898, and to flashing green in 1934. An oil house was added to the station in 1897.
The lighthouse was painted white at first, but in the 1880s it was changed to a reddish-brown color that earned it the nickname "the Chocolate Lighthouse."
Purdy's daughter, Alice Purdy Ray, later was interviewed by Linsey Lee of the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society. "That was heaven up there in East Chop then," she said. She remembered that the house was built so solidly that you were always comfortable regardless of the weather outside. The family had a cow and a vegetable garden.
Years later Alice Purdy was watching a Coast Guardsman scraping paint from the tower. She told the man, "I know a one-armed man used to scrape that all by himself." The man asked, "How long did it take him?" Alice answered, "Two days," to the man's amazement.
In 1934, when the light was being automated, the Purdy family was offered the chance to stay in the house for $100 a month rent. They refused the offer, so the keeper's house and oil house were removed. Alice Purdy Ray said, "I could never understand why the government pulled it down. Why didn't they sell it to somebody? It was pretty nice up there."
In 1957, the Coast Guard sold the land surrounding the lighthouse to the town of Oak Bluffs for use as a park. The original Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic in 1984. In the following year, the Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI) became responsible for the maintenance of the lighthouse under a license agreement with the Coast Guard. In 1994 the license was transferred to the Martha's Vineyard Museum, along with the licenses for the Gay Head and Edgartown Lights.
The grounds around the lighthouse are beautifully maintained. East Chop Light is open to the public on summer Sundays around sunset. For information on the open houses, contact the Martha's Vineyard Museum.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.
Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
Silas Daggett (privately owned light 1869-1878), George Walter Purdy (1902-1934)