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Lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay
Cape Charles Light Station, Smith Island, Virginia
Cape Charles Light Station, Smith Island, Virginia
Cape Charles Light Station, Smith Island, Virginia (built 1894)

The original Cape Charles Lighthouse was established in 1828 but destroyed by Confederate forces in 1862. The second tower was built in 1864, but was quickly threatened by erosion. A third tower measuring 191 feet in height was completed in 1894. The Coast Guard installed airport beacons in the lantern and the lighthouse was completely automated in 1963.

New and Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Towers, Cape Henry, Virginia
New and Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Towers, Cape Henry, Virginia
New and Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Towers and the Memorial to the First Settlers, Cape Henry, Virginia

The first Cape Henry light was built in 1792 and is the oldest lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay. Early in the Civil War, Confederate guerrillas destroyed the Cape Henry lantern. Considered a strategically important beacon, the light was replaced in 1863 and a military guard was posted for its defense.

In 1872, cracks appeared in the walls of the 90-foot octagonal tower and the Lighthouse Board recommended the construction of a new tower. The new tower, with cast-iron plates on a masonry foundation, was completed in 1881 at a cost of $125, 000.

In 1929, Cape Henry became the first radio distance-finding station in the world and the light flashes a Morse code "U." The original 1792 lighthouse is open to visitors by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

Thimble Shoals Light, Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Thimble Shoals Light, Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Thimble Shoals Light, Hampton Roads, Virginia, (built 1872, rebuilt 1914)

The first lighthouse at Thimble Shoals was built in 1872. Standing at the entrance to the Hampton Roads Harbor, the original screwpile light was built eight years later. Within fifty-five days a new lighthouse was built on the same pilings.

On December 27, 1909, the keepers of the Thimble Shoal Light, J.B. Thomas and T.L. Faulcher, were inside the screwpile lighthouse, wrapped in blankets and huddled close to the coal stove trying to stay warm. Outside, it was snowing and the gale force winds only made the freezing weather more miserable. Although the keepers knew that large chunks of ice floating down the Bay could be dangerous to the lighthouse, it was much too cold to keep constant watch on the sea. On this day, they did only the work that was absolutely necessary to keep the light burning.

Outside in the storm, the schooner Malcolm Baxter, Jr., was being towed into Norfolk harbor by a tugboat. The Baxter's crew could see the light of the Thimble Shoal Lighthouse. Suddenly, the steering on the Baxter broke, and the tug could not control the ship. The tow rope came loose and the ship went out of control. It crashed into the lighthouse and cracked the wall. The surprised lighthouse keepers saw the bow of the Baxter come right through the wall. The force of the crash overturned the coal stove, and the lighthouse caught fire.

Luckily, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Faulcher were able to escape in the lighthouse's small boat and were rescued by the tugboat. The rocking of the waves and the wind helped the Baxter to free itself from the lighthouse just before the oil storage tanks exploded. In less than an hour, the lighthouse had burned down to its iron foundation.

A new caisson lighthouse was built on the site in 1914 and was automated in 1964.

Newport News Middleground Lighthouse, Virginia
Newport News Middleground Lighthouse, Virginia
Newport News Middleground Lighthouse, Hampton Roads, Virginia (built 1891)

Because the Hampton Roads area is home to the largest Navy base in the world and sees hundreds of cargo ships a year, the Lighthouse Board requested a new lighthouse be built on a shallow area of the harbor called Middle Ground in 1887. This conical shaped lighthouse was first constructed in 1891 and automated in 1954. It stands thirty-five feet high. One thousand tons of riprap stone were set in place to protect the lighthouse from the current. The dwelling consisted of three rooms occupied by a keeper and assistant. In 1954 the status of the lighthouse was changed to unattended operation. The lighthouse also has an automated fog bell that strikes every fifteen seconds, twenty-four hours a day from September 15 through June 1, with or without any fog. Newport News light is the oldest caisson construction on the Chesapeake Bay.

New Point Comfort Lighthouse, Mobjack Bay, Mathews, Virginia
New Point Comfort Lighthouse, Mobjack Bay, Mathews, Virginia
New Point Comfort Lighthouse, Mobjack Bay, Mathews, Virginia (built 1805)

Built in 1805, the New Point Lighthouse served both incoming and outgoing traffic on the Chesapeake Bay. The octagonal tower was equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1855, and attacked and looted by Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War. An offshore beacon replaced the station in 1963. The tower was renovated in the 1980s and became a monument for local seamen who lost their lives at sea. Today, the lighthouse serves as a popular boating and beach location, but has major problems with vandalism.

Drum Point Lighthouse, Patuxent River, Maryland
Drum Point Lighthouse, Patuxent River, Maryland
Drum Point Lighthouse, Patuxent River, Maryland (built 1883)Built in 1883, this screwpile lighthouse was built offshore in ten feet of water. Over the years extensive shoaling has occurred and the light eventually found itself on dry land. The lighthouse was acquired by the Calvert County Historical Society in the 1974 and moved to its present location two miles upriver of the Calvert Marine Museum, where it is open to the public
 

 

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