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Cape Charles Light

Smith Island, VA, Northern mouth of the Bay, cir. 1895
Cape Charles Light Cape Charles Lighthouse stands on Smith Island, VA which is part of the Virginia Coast Reserve on the Atlantic Ocean side of the northern mouth of the Bay and reachable only by boat. (This should not be confused with the more well known Smith Island, MD inside the Bay.) Like the Cape Henry Lights, Cape Charles could be considered an Atlantic coast light and is sized accordingly. This is the third tower to be built at this location. The first was a 60 foot white masonry tower commissioned in 1828. That light proved inadequate and construction on a new, larger tower was begun in 1856. The new tower was only partially completed in 1862 when the light was destroyed by Confederate raiders. More funds were appropriated and a 150 foot brick tower was completed under Union guard in 1864. However shore erosion was severe. In 1889 it was condemned and was finally toppled by a severe storm in 1927. The current tower was built in 1895 about a mile west of its predecessor. It consists of an iron column containing steps to the lantern, supported by an external, octagonal, iron skeleton. During World War II, three cement observation towers were built close to the light and used to look for German U-boats. The light was fully automated in 1963 and the ten foot tall, one ton, first order Fresnel lens moved to the Mariners Museum in Newport News, VA where it is on display. While the lighthouse tower stands in good working order and continues to be used as an aid to navigation, a fire burned down the keepers dwellings in the summer of 2000.


Location: Smith Island, VA, 37.1229 N, 75.9063 W
Date Built: Original: 1828, Current: 1895
Type of Structure: Iron column with external skeleton support
Height: 191 feet
Characteristics: Flashing white
Appropriation: $78,200
Range: 24 miles
Status: Standing and Active
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