Up until this year, lighthouse enthusiasts looking to admire the offshore Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse were forced to settle for a “close but just out of reach” view of the 1885 beacon from the point of Cape Henlopen. Visitors to the Cape Henlopen State Park have traditionally watched gorgeous sunsets descend on summer evenings behind the lighthouse, but dreams of learning more about this silent beacon would fade and disappear on the horizon of Lewes Harbor along with the breathtaking reds and oranges of each fleeting sunset.
This all changed this past spring when the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation (DRBLHF) escorted the first-ever public tour group to the Delaware Breakwater East End Light for an unforgettable lighthouse experience. With the sun shining bright and seas calm, visitors disembarked the launch, which departed from the nearby Lewes Ferry Terminal pier, onto the Delaware Breakwater and began absorbing a moment where 177 years of maritime history involving the 0.8-mile-long breakwater and lighthouse culminated atop the 56-foot cast-iron beacon.
“The tour had a great mix of folks who were so thirsty to learn about the Breakwater,” said Ruth Africa, DRBLHF board member and tour chairperson. “We heard a lot of ‘Wows!’ especially as they climbed the ladder into the lantern room. Everyone enjoyed the view from outside the watchroom and so many shared stories of seeing the lighthouse from shore since they were young, or fishing as a child around the lighthouse with their grandfather, etc.”
Visitors marveled at the view of the rugged breakwater from the upper gallery of the lighthouse and learned that the stone wall took the federal government forty years to build from 1829 to 1869. Just as fascinating was learning how lightkeepers lived inside a lighthouse with only a 22-foot diameter of living space on the lower floors, which tapers to an 18-foot diameter below the lantern. Accounts of epic storms lashing the breakwater and lighthouse, keepers observing upwards to 200 vessels seeking safe refuge behind the massive wall and the countless hours of the foghorn blowing at the light station were just some of historical facts visitors learned during the tour.
“A couple really thought it was something special that they were the first people to be on the light since the Pilots’ Association (back in the 1960s) other than DRBLHF volunteers participating in work trips,” said DRBLHF board member Herb Von Goerres. “Everyone was interested in learning of the light’s history and about its future.” Fellow DRBLHF board member Red Moulinier noted how well the historic occasion went, saying, “The tour was a huge success. All of the patrons had a great time and remarked how the experience exceeded their expectations. Everyone even received a certificate certifying that they were on the first-ever tour to Delaware Breakwater East End Light.”
In addition to offering other tour dates of the Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse in 2006, as well as to the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, the DRBLHF is assisting in the restoration of the 121 year-old sentinel through a unique partnership with the Delaware River & Bay Authority, which was established in 2004. To learn more about the efforts of the DRBLHF and YOUR chance to experience a memorable tour to Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse in 2006, visit www.delawarebaylights.org.
This story appeared in the
July 2006 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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