CREDITS: I would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont for providing much of the history one can find on this site. He is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England. For a story on Jeremy or to visit his site (New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide), use the corresponding link in the right hand information bar under "Related Links".

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I have set up this site as a means to share my photographs of lighthouses. Since retiring and finding more time to study photography, my interests have expanded a little. For some of my work other than lighthouses please enjoy my Facebook page at, John Shaw Photography. Come visit, enjoy, and 'LIKE' if you wish.

Also, for your enjoyment, I have provided a slideshow of our journey. To view it please use the link on the right under 'Site Navigation Tools'.

I sincerely hope you enjoy my efforts and use my site not only for information and education but also to provide directions for many enjoyable, inspirational visits to the beacons along our beautiful coas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse, Norfolk, Virginia

     On a recent trip to Virginia Beach my wife and I seized the opportunity to visit a few of the most assessable lighthouses.  One of those was the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse on Fort Monroe neear Norfolk, Virginia.

     The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse marks the entrance to historic Hampton Roads, an important harbor situated at the mouths of the James, Nansemond and Elizabeth Rivers, and stands on ground which has seen many a fort constructed nearby to defend this import waterway. The tower’s present neighbor, the Civil-War era Fort Monroe, was preceded by colonial Fort George, which in turn was probably preceded by an even earlier fortification. A navigational beacon on Old Point Comfort was active as early as 1775 when John Dams, caretaker of the ruins at Fort George, was paid an annual supplement of 20 pounds to tend a light there. Some historians believe that Native Americans kept wood fires burning at the Point before that for the benefit of Spanish ships during the 16th century.

    With the establishment of the United States government and its ensuing lighthouse projects at places like Cape Henry, pressure mounted to build a permanent aid to navigation at Old Point Comfort. An early edition of the American Coast Pilot noted the 1798 law passed by the U.S. Congress that called for a light at Old Point Comfort, and proclaimed: “We wish, for the security of navigation, that the important work may soon be undertaken, for the safety of our mariners.” Between 1800 and 1801 Congress appropriated $5,000 for construction costs, and contracted the services of Elzy Burroughs to complete the octagonal stone structure.

     Burroughs completed most of the work on the lighthouse, which stands 54 feet high, during 1803. The tower possesses a spiral staircase composed of hand-cut stone, stacked strategically on top of each other. The stairs lead to a ladder that ascends to a trap door, beyond which is the lantern room. Eleven oil lanterns, which consumed 486 gallons of oil each year, were set in fourteen-inch reflectors to produce a light that could be seen from fourteen miles at sea.

    During the War of 1812, the lighthouse temporarily fell into British hands, when the Jack Tars and Royal Marines sailed into the Chesapeake. Frustrated in their efforts to seize the town of Norfolk, the invaders landed at Old Point Comfort and used the tower as an observation post. From there they went on to take and burn Hampton on June 25th, 1813, and then torch Washington D.C. a weeks later on August 14th.

     After the war, Old Point Comfort was vastly transformed by both the federal government and private investors. The government erected Forts Monroe and Calhoun, the former on shore and the latter on a man-made island called ‘Rip Raps’ situated in the middle of Hampton Roads. The clever Robert E. Lee, Lieutenant of Engineers, was transferred to Fort Monroe in 1831 and was instrumental during the next three years in helping complete construction on Fort Monroe, which is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States . Entrepreneurs built several resort hotels and otherwise made the area into a vacationer’s paradise for the leading lights of a young American society.

    In 1855, the lighthouse received a companion structure; Congress had appropriated $6,000 to build a fog bell tower for navigation in inclement weather. The bronze bell was forty inches around and three feet high, and its ringing could be heard up to three miles away. Soon thereafter a beacon light was added to the station to guide ships docking at Fort Monroe.

     While most east coast lighthouses were damaged, destroyed or at least put out of commission during the Civil War, the tower at Old Point Comfort remained undisturbed during the conflict as Fort Monroe remained under Union control throughout the war. An observer perched on the deck of the lighthouse would have seen an impressive procession of historic events during the conflict. President Lincoln once landed at the wharf to Fort Monroe; he had come to witness the Union troops take Norfolk. The legendary battle of the first ironclads, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, occurred just offshore in Hampton Roads. Finally at the end of the war Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in an artillery room behind the light station.

     After the War Between the States, the lighthouse was in danger of being closed; an 1869 report contended that it no longer played a vital role for navigation. Evidently a number of festive establishments were putting out candlepower that dwarfed the little light. Among these were the Hygeia Hotel, the Sherwood Inn, the Chamberlain Hotel and the Adams Express Company. Given the increasing sophistication of the area, it is likely that the historic and aesthetic value of the light helped save it. Instead of being decommissioned, the lighthouse grounds were vastly improved upon. In 1891, a new keeper’s house, built just south of the tower, replaced the original 1823 dwelling, and various buildings such as a stable, new oil house and iron railings were added as well. The station was hooked up to a modern sewer line in 1901, and the resulting dug-up grounds were substantially re-landscaped. Fifty cart loads of topsoil were spread on the premises and sixty-three varieties of plants and grasses were planted.

    Improvements to the station continued to be made in the new century. The oil fuel lanterns were replaced by electric power, and the beam increased in intensity to 3,300 candlepower. With advances in aeronautics the station was designated as an aerial landmark. One of the buildings’ roofs was painted in a distinctive pattern, part of a chain enabling pilots to find their way from Washington D.C. to Norfolk. In 1936, an experimental apparatus was added to control the fog signal. A beam of light was shot every two minutes from nearby Fort Wool, onto a photoelectric cell at Old Point Comfort. If the beam failed to arrive, that meant it had been impeded by rain, fog or snow, and the fog signal was activated.

     The problem of competing coastal lights from hotels and attractions was tackled in an innovative manner in 1954. A Coast Guard officer in charge of the lighthouse attached five 250 watt bulbs on poles extending from the guardrails, so that they resembled spokes on a wheel. While this may have made it more noticeable, one writer in The Keeper’s Log lamented that “it made the light look like an amusement park ride...rather than a noble lighthouse.”

     Over the years the characteristic of the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse was altered several times. In 1905, the Lighthouse Board reported that “the light was again changed to a fixed red through the entire arc of visibility.” In the 1950s, the ruby-red glass was still in place in the lantern room, but the automated signal showed a mixture of red and white light. The white beam covered 132 degrees of the circle, while red occupied the rest. The pattern was arranged in such a way that if a ship saw red, the crew knew it was on a “danger course.”

     Today the lighthouse tower is a freshly painted white, topped by a dull red, domed copper roof and a lightning rod. The structure has four large double-paned windows, with bright green doors, sashes and frames. The ‘eye-catching’ green was rumored to be a contractual error that would soon be corrected, but it has remained for years. A solid steel door guards the base of the lighthouse, alongside a plaque denoting it as a Virginia National Landmark.

    The keeper’s dwelling housed the families of two Coast Guardsmen until automation in 1973; presently it is the house of an Army Major. The house was described in an inventory of the station produced by the Army as stylistically eclectic, exhibiting “influences from the Shingle Style of the 1870's, the Stick Style of the 1870's, a touch of Queen Anne, and a soup├žon of Eastlake.”

     The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse has been privy to events of great military importance, since those it overlooked during the Civil War. Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Great White Fleet’ set sail from Hampton Roads in 1907 for its cruise around the world. On November 14, 1910, the first launching of a plane from a warship took place on the deck of the USS Birmingham in Hampton Roads. Today, the historic lighthouse still watches over the busy waterway frequented by sailboats and aircraft carriers.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Assateague Island Lighthouse, Virginia

      My wife and recently took a trip to Virginia Beach.  To get a break in our driving before crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we made a detour to view the Assateague Island Lighthouse located within The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.  Other than the lighthouse, the most outstanding feature of the area would be the wild ponies on the Refuge.  While we were not fortunate enough to see the wild ponies, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the lighthouse.

      The distinctive red and white striped structure looms 147 feet above sea level.  While we found it to be badly in need of paint, we were assured that it was scheduled  for restoration next spring.  While times have changed both the lighthouse and the island, the Assateague Island Lighthouse continues to be a constant reminder of days gone by.  I would highly recommend it as a prime destination for any lighthouse lover who happens through the area. 

         Before 1833 there were no guiding beacons along the stretch of Atlantic Coast between Cape Henlopen, where a lighthouse marked the southern entrance to Delaware Bay, and Cape Charles, where a lighthouse marked the northern entrance to Chesapeake Bay. As coastal commerce blossomed, shipwrecks piled up on the many shoals that plagued the coasts of Delaware and Virginia. In 1830, Congress appropriated money for a lighthouse halfway between Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. The beacon was intended for the general vicinity of the Island of Chincoteague, and in 1832 the Customs Collector in Norfolk narrowed the site down to Assateague Island. The next year the lighthouse’s Argand lamp system was first lit for the aid of mariners. This arrangement comprised eleven oil lamps hung together on a frame, each with its own reflector. Combined with the tower’s low 45-foot height, however, the lamps proved inadequate as a coastal beacon. 

     Acknowledging the continued danger along the coast, the Lighthouse Board included Assateague Island Lighthouse in its energetic campaign, launched in the late 1850s, to repair and upgrade deficient lighthouses and lightships. Their plan for Assateague called for a new tall brick tower and work was begun to this effect in 1860. The outbreak of the Civil War, however, soon interrupted the project, and work on the tower did not resume until 1866.

     On October 1st of 1867 the much taller lighthouse was put into operation, and it remains standing today at a height of 139 feet. Its stature is accentuated by it position atop a bluff, which is itself 31 feet above the mean low water mark. Built of red brick, the conical tower with a 27 ½ foot base received its distinctive candy cane striping of alternating red and white bands in 1963. Of the Virginia lighthouses, only the daymark at New Cape Henry, with its stark alternating black and white rectangles, rivals Assateague for panache. Obviously striking as a daymark, the island light was also endowed with a first-order Fresnel Lens, which combined with the tower’s great height to render the light visible from up to nineteen miles at sea.

      The tower and accompanying one-story, rectangular entrance are built on a twelve-foot deep stone and concrete foundation. The exterior wall at the base is 28 inches thick, while the interior wall is seventeen inches thick. Iron braces are used throughout the tower’s height to add strength and stability, and a cast-iron spiral staircase with six independent landings ascends to the lantern room. On these landings, four north-facing and three south-facing windows light the interior.

     A large keepers’ dwelling was constructed in 1867 consisting of three enormous sections each capable of housing an entire family. Each section contained a pantry, kitchen, dining and living rooms, three bedrooms and a bathroom. The house was surrounded by blooming forsythia bushes and daffodils in spring, and in the summer white and purple lilacs were in abundance. A brick oil house also adorned the grounds; it measured fourteen by eighteen feet and was used to store batteries and supplies after oil became obsolete. Today a small concrete bungalow, built in 1910 for an additional keeper, is the only remaining original structure besides the lighthouse. This dwelling is located south of the tower and is now used to house volunteers and interns at the island’s wildlife refuge.  

      Assateague’s lantern room is cylindrical and nearly 12 feet in diameter. At the very apex of the lighthouse is a brass lightning rod, with a platinum tip, positioned atop the copper ventilator ball. In 1933 electricity replaced oil as the means of illumination; three 100-watt bulbs produced the flashing electric light. An on-site generator was run for about fifteen hours per week to charge the batteries that powered the light. This situation continued until 1963, when power lines were first run to Assateague Island. At this time a directional coded beacon (DCB) was installed. In 1973, this was replaced by a similar beacon with a light characteristic of a double-flash every five seconds. This effect was produced by two revolving drums, one stacked above the other, with an angle of twelve degrees separating the beams of light produced by 1000-watt bulbs. A Daylight Control Monitoring System turns on the lamp at sunset and extinguishes it each morning.

    In 1891, the presidential yacht Dispatch ran aground 75 yards offshore from Assateague Island. A 730 ton schooner-rigged steamship, the Dispatch was charged with ferrying high government officials from Washington D.C. to various ports of call. At three a.m. on October 10 it was returning from a trip to New York City, when it became grounded on the sandbars. There were no fatalities, but the yacht, which had faithfully served Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Cleveland, as well as then president Benjamin Harrison, was irreparably damaged.

      Assateague Lighthouse is blessed in many respects, including architecturally and environmentally. It is a beautiful structure with brick walls and floors, along with magnificent brick arches overhanging its entrance and windows. The station is situated in a pristine nature reserve, where a menagerie of wildlife roam the grounds. Guided tours through the island’s marshes and beaches reveal native white tailed deer, Sika elk, colorful ducks and other waterfowl, and wild ponies. Wooded trails and bicycle paths are also available, and at the island’s southern tip there is a beautiful beach with a bathing area.

     Often situated on wave-swept shorelines, coastal lighthouses are frequently threatened by the encroaching sea. At Assateague Island, however, the opposite is actually true; the southern tip of the island, known as Tom’s Grove Hook, is being slowly built up by currents depositing vast amounts of sand. Most of the Hook did not even exist before the twentieth century, and at one time the lighthouse stood much nearer to the shore. The island has actually grown in size by about five miles since it was first selected as the site for the lighthouse.

    Located nearby on Chincoteague Island is the Chincoteague Island Museum (formerly known as the Oyster and Maritime Museum), which was involved in a small controversy with the U.S. Lighthouse Society over the lens from the Assateague Lighthouse. For years, the tower’s large and shimmering first-order Fresnel lens had been exhibited at the base of the tower. This was great for the tourists, but not so good for the lens as it was protected with only a chicken wire fence and was exposed to the elements and stone-hurling vandals. Dismayed at these conditions, the Society, after sending numerous letters and inquiries, learned that the lens was under the care of the museum. The lens had been donated to the museum in 1975 by the Virginia Historical Society, who had first received it from the Coast Guard in 1961. Responding to the complaints, the museum promptly covered the lens with a sturdy wooden box and ultimately relocated it to their museum.
    Assateague remains an active aid to navigation. It was repainted in 1994, and its brick tower and foundation remain strong and in good repair. In 2004 it was transferred from the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since the transfer, a $1.5 million, multi-phase restoration project has been initiated on the tower. During the first two phases, the lower gallery deck was replaced along with some of the glass in the lantern room, which will stop water leaks. This work cost $400,000, and fundraising is underway so that the upper gallery deck can be renovated, additional windows can be replaced, and the entire tower painted.



      Directions:  From Route 13 on Virginia's eastern shore, about four miles south of the Virginia-Maryland state line, take Route 175 east to Chincoteague Island. Immediately after reaching the island, turn left on Main Street and then right on Maddox Boulevard. Continue straight on Maddox Boulevard, which will take you to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The trail to the lighthouse will be on your right about a half mile after entering the refuge. Pets are not allowed on Assateague Island, even if kept in a vehicle.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tenants Harbor Lighthouse - Sept. 2012

       On September 14th, 2012 my wife and I took a Sunset Lighthouse Cruise out of Port Clyde, Maine.  Under much less than optimal conditions (it clouded up early and was foggy on the horizon) we thoroughly enjoyed visiting and photographing five lighthouses off Mid-Coast Maine.  I find that any fair weather time spent on the waters off the Maine coast to be extremely special.  This evening was just that.  I also find that shooting lighthouses in less than perfect conditions to be very rewarding.  After all, if one wishes to truly depict these timeworn structures, one must shoot them in all conditions.  I will share the photos I took on this occasion in five separate posts.  This, the fourth, is a few photos of the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse.  It was still extremely overcast making photography difficult.  Nevertheless, I sincerely hope you enjoy the shots I took.

     Use the following link to go to my original post on the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse along with it history.