The Gay Head was built in 1891 in Philadelphia for the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamboat Co.
The Gay Head was 701 tons, 203 feet long, 34 foot beam, a draft of 5½ feet, with encased paddlewheels.
It was the largest sidewheeler ever operated by the company.
According to a 1961 Vineyard Gazette article:
“Her social hall, ladies’ saloon and toilet rooms were “all fitted in the Neapolitan style, with gold trimmings.” The woodwork was of cherry, and the side seats in the cabins were covered with maroon plush upholstering. The social hall deck was laid with black walnut and maple – its size, too, was imposing, for its length was 50 feet. Above the main deck were the forward promenade and upper saloon, reached fore and aft by “richly carved staircases.” Five state rooms on each side were furnished with willow furniture. The Gay Head could boast a hurricane deck extending from the stern to the pilot house; this was something earlier steamers had lacked.”
The Gay Head was commanded in 1891 by Capt. A. P. Bartow and Capt. G. L. Daggett, and later by Capt. Charles H. Fishback of Nantucket, Capt. Charles H. Coulter (resigned 1909), and Capt. J. W. Merriman.
In July 1898, the Gay Head collided with the steamer while crossing Vineyard Sound in a dense fog. The Nantucket’s bow was badly damaged in the accident.
The Gay Head operated until 1924, after 33 years of operation.