Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2012

Watts Island Lighthouse – Barely a Memory


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The history of Virginia’s Watt’s Island Lighthouse seems to have been swallowed up by the dusty pages of time. Although we know the basic facts that tell us that the lighthouse was established in 1833 on Little Watts Island, south of Watts Island in the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Onancock Creek in Virginia, the stories and photographs of life at the lighthouse seem to be nonexistent.

In 1923 the lighthouse was automated and its light keepers were removed. The island and the keeper’s house were sold to a private individual. However, the Lighthouse Service, and later the Coast Guard, continued to maintain a light in the tower. However, as you can see in this historic image, the water was extremely close to the lighthouse that had created a threat of erosion for years.

The erosion, an enemy to so many lighthouses over the years, finally took its toll in a 1944 winter storm that undermined the tower, causing it to topple and be destroyed. The station had a 5th order Fresnel lens, which is considered the rarest of all lighthouse lenses. Whether the lens was in the tower at its time of collapse or had previously been removed appears to be unknown. Erosion eventually washed away most traces of the island and only a shoal remains there today that is marked by a lighted buoy.

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 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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