No region in the United States has lost more of its lighthouse heritage than the Chesapeake Bay. Of the 42 screwpile lighthouses erected in the bay and its rivers from the 1850s into the early 20th century, only one - Thomas Point Shoal Light - survives in its original location, earning National Historic Landmark status for this distinction. Some others have been rescued via relocation to shore locations, like Hooper Strait Lighthouse, now at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. But an important piece of this vanished heritage has been recently resurrected at the Stingray Point Marina in Deltaville, Virginia.
Stingray Point is at the end of a peninsula separating the Rappahannock and Piankatank rivers. The name of the point comes courtesy of Captain John Smith, who while exploring and mapping the Chesapeake Bay region in 1608 was stung by a stingray just offshore. The Englishman believed he was dying from the injury and actually gave instructions to his men concerning the disposal of his body. He survived, thanks to the help of local Indians at a nearby location now known appropriately as Antipoison Creek.
Stingray Point Lighthouse was established at a point a little over a mile from shore in 1858 to help guide shipping traffic from the bay into the two rivers, and to mark the end of a dangerous shoal extending eastward from the point. A hexagonal wooden cottage was built on the foundation atop six piles that were literally screwed into the bay’s bottom. The light and fog bell were maintained by resident keepers for almost a century.
The man with the longest service was Larry Marchant, who spent an astounding 32 years (1888-1920) at Stingray Point. In a newspaper interview, Marchant described storms at the lighthouse, saying that the whole structure swayed “back and forth like a rocking chair.” He once spent 30 days alone at the lighthouse during a deep freeze in the bay, with “nothing to look at but fields of ice.” He spent much of his spare time reading and said that he had never been sick a single day. The secret of his good health, he claimed, was that he had been living “where the doctors could not get to me.”
The lighthouse was automated and boarded up in 1950. Fifteen years later the cottage was moved to shore and burned, and an automated light was installed on the original foundation. Thus ended the life story of Stingray Point Lighthouse, or so it seemed.
In 2002, Brent Halsey and Jimmy Rogers of the Stingray Point Marina, 1.6 miles west of the original lighthouse location, contracted Northwind, Inc. of Deltaville, owned by Arthur Wilton, to build a new replica of the lost lighthouse. Architect Randall Kipp’s plans were based on original drawings from the National Archives. Charles Yeager Designers and Fabricators designed the base steel work and designed and fabricated the aluminum and copper portions of the lantern, while Atlantic Metals fabricated and erected the base steel work. The replica was completed in March 2003.
The lens and other artifacts associated with the lighthouse are long gone, but the marina owners have obtained a number of items similar to equipment once found at the lighthouse. A fifth order drum-type lens in the lantern is dimly illuminated by a small fluorescent bulb. “It is dim to insure that it is not mistaken for a navigation light,” says Brent Halsey, “and so it does not disturb our slip holders.” The light is fixed white like the original. “We intend to incorporate a red sector,” adds Halsey, “also duplicating the original.” A 1942 bronze Coast Guard bell has also been installed along with a circa-1880 Gamewell bell striking machine, once used at a fire station.
The lighthouse is fully heated and air-conditioned and one-third of its area will serve as the marina office. The rest of the building will serve as a mini-museum, which will be open to the public whenever the office is staffed or by appointment. It will certainly draw lighthouse lovers and those nostalgic for days past in the Chesapeake Bay. Brent Halsey says that the lighthouse replica is meant to be not only an icon for the marina, but also a Deltavile icon “celebrating the seafaring traditions of the community.”
This story appeared in the
September 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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