Old Cape Henry Light
Cape Henry, Fort Story, VA, cir. 1792
Old Cape Henry light was built in 1792 by John McComb, Jr. and is the oldest lighthouse on the Bay. It is the third oldest lighthouse in the United States but the first constructed by the new colonial government. George Washington took a personal interest in its construction and personally appointed the first keeper. Sitting at the mouth of the Chesapeake, just above Virginia Beach, the light guided ships entering the Bay for almost 90 years. The octagonal sandstone tower is 92 feet high and sits atop a 56 foot dune. The copper dome of its lantern is unique amongst Bay lights. It was originally accompanied by a 2 story keepers house and an underground oil vault. A new keepers dwelling was constructed in 1835 and over the years the lighting apparatus changed to 18 lights and reflectors in 1841 and a second order Fresnel lens in 1857. A fog bell tower was also added in 1855. Confederate sympathizers temporarily put the light out of commission during the early years of the Civil War. However it was repaired and put back in operation under Union guard in 1863. In the 1870s cracks were discovered at the tower's base on six of the eight walls. It was deemed unsafe and in 1878 an appropriation was granted for construction of a new tower a few hundred yards away (the New Cape Henry Light) which was completed in 1881. Despite the dire predictions, the old tower has held firm over the ensuing 100+ years and it is now open to the public.
Fort Story, Virginia Beach, VA, 36°55'32", N 76°0'30" W
See Preservation Virginia - Cape Henry Lighthouse
Type of Structure:
Octagonal sandstone tower
Standing, but Decommissioned