Cape Henry Lighthouse

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Cape Henry Lighthouse
Cape Henry Lighthouse2.jpg
In 2017
Cape Henry Lighthouse is located in Virginia
Cape Henry Lighthouse
Cape Henry Lighthouse is located in the US
Cape Henry Lighthouse
LocationVirginia Beach, Virginia
Coordinates36°55′32″N 76°0′30″W / 36.92556°N 76.00833°W / 36.92556; -76.00833Coordinates: 36°55′32″N 76°0′30″W / 36.92556°N 76.00833°W / 36.92556; -76.00833
BuiltOld Lighthouse, 1792; New lighthouse, 1881
ArchitectFederal Government
MPSLight Stations of the United States MPS
NRHP reference #66000910, 02001439
VLR #134-0007, 134-0079
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966, December 2, 2002[2]
Designated NHLApril 15, 1970[3]
Designated VLRSeptember 9, 1969, September 10, 2003[1]

The Cape Henry Lighthouse is a lighthouse at Cape Henry, the landform marking the southern entrance to Chesapeake Bay in the U.S. state of Virginia. The location has long been important for the large amount of ocean-going shipping traffic for the harbors, its rivers, and shipping headed to ports on the bay. The original lighthouse was the first authorized by the U.S. government, dating from 1792. It was also the first federal construction project under the Constitution, for an original contract amount of $15,200 (an additional $2,500 was required to finish the lighthouse). A second lighthouse was built and completed in 1881 a short distance away after concern arose about the stability of the first. Both towers of the light station were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.


The first work of the new U.S. Federal government, the first Cape Henry lighthouse was built of Aquia and Rappahannock sandstone by John McComb, Jr. and was completed in October, 1792. McComb was one of the architects involved in the construction of New York City Hall and would design other lighthouses. The lighthouse's design was based on the 1767 Cape Henlopen Light.[4] The lighthouse was damaged by Confederate forces during the American Civil War, but was repaired by Union forces in 1863, who depended on the light for navigation.[5] In the 1870s, concerns about the condition and safety of the old Lighthouse at Cape Henry following a lightning strike that caused large cracks in the structure led to the construction of a new, taller, lighthouse at Cape Henry (pictured to the right) in 1881, which stands 350 feet to the northeast of the original tower.[6] The old tower remained standing, used as a daymark and as a basis for triangulation. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1983 and remains in use today.[7][8]


In 1798, Benjamin Latrobe visited Cape Henry Lighthouse and described it as "an octangular truncated pyramid of eight sides, rising 90 feet to the light..."[9] The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse is 26 feet in diameter at its base, and 16 feet at its top.[8] It was built with Aquia Creek sandstone from the same source as the White House.[10]

The new lighthouse, 157 feet (48 m) tall, was built of cast iron and wrought iron, with a more powerful first-order Fresnel lens.[4]


The older lighthouse was acquired in 1930 by Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities). A brick lining and an iron stairway have been added to the interior. The lighthouse is open to the public and a fine view can be enjoyed from its observation platform. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on January 29, 1964. In 2002 the American Society of Civil Engineers designated the lighthouse a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.[5][8]

The lighthouses are located in the city of Virginia Beach within the boundaries of Joint Expeditionary Base East, a Navy base. The Cape Henry Memorial is adjacent to the lighthouses.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Archived from the original on 2013-09-21. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  2. ^ National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. ^ "Cape Henry Lighthouse". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2007-12-26. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  4. ^ a b Wilson, Richard Guy, ed. (2002). The Buildings of Virginia:Tidewater and Piedmont. Oxford University Press. p. 455. ISBN 0-19-515206-9.
  5. ^ a b c "Cape Henry Lighthouse". Preservation Virginia. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-05-07. Retrieved 2006-05-13.
  7. ^ Catherine E. Dean, "The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse", 2006, APVA Preservation Virginia, ISBN 1-891468-48-0
  8. ^ a b c Sheely, Horace J. (1963). "Old Cape Henry Lighthouse National Historic Landmark Study Designated January 29, 1964". Maritime Landmarks: Light Stations. National Park Service. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  9. ^ Lighthouse Friends Old Cape Henry description Archived May 7, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Preserving Virginia 1889-1989: Centennial Pictorial. Virginia: The Art Band. 1989. p. 10.

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