Digest>Archives> December 2002

Saving Lighthouse History from Vanishing Forever

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

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Delaware Breakwater Range Rear Light Station, ...

Back off the beaten path just outside the historic maritime town of Lewes, Delaware, is a little-known secret tucked away within a hummock of the Great Marsh. Eighty-four years have passed since the time a skeletal tower, known as the Delaware Breakwater Range Rear Light, last stood sentinel over the mosquito-infested grounds of the Great Marsh. The fleeting decades have since witnessed nature itself working ceaselessly to reclaim the former lighthouse grounds for its own, as the overgrowth of vegetation and deterioration to the site have all but relegated the historical ruins of the light station to the pages of forgotten maritime history.

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The dilapidated former concrete keeper’s dwelling.
Photo by: Bob Trapani, Jr.

The 100-foot Delaware Breakwater Range Rear Light was erected in 1881 and was equipped with a third order Fresnel lens showing a red light. The light worked in conjunction with the Delaware Breakwater West End Light, which served as the front light to the range until 1903. Changes in the migrating sands of Cape Henlopen forced the U.S. Lighthouse Service to then utilize the Delaware Breakwater East End Light as the front light for the range which assisted vessels in safely rounding the dangerous shifting sands of the cape. By 1918, the range was deemed no longer necessary to shipping interests, subsequently forcing the discontinuance of the Delaware Breakwater Range Rear Light. The tower was later disassembled in 1921 and shipped to Florida where it was later erected as the rear light for the Gasparilla range.

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Aerial view of the Gasparilla Range Rear Light ...

In 1998, a much-needed clean-up effort was applied to the site of the former light station known locally as the Green Hill Light. Thanks to the energetic and enthusiastic efforts by twelve members of AmeriCorps, the massive amounts of debris, litter and glass bottles strewn throughout the site were removed and the overpowering underbrush around the remains of the keeper’s house, oil house and base of the former light was brought under control. Thereafter, the Lewes Greenways and Trails Committee, led by Committee Chair Nina Cannata, have worked tirelessly for five years to save and interpret the site as part of the region’s maritime and lighthouse heritage.

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Gasparilla Range Rear (Boca Grande Entrance Range ...
Photo by: Jeremy D'Entremont.

The Lewes Greenways and Trails Committee introduced a preliminary plan in September 2002 that addresses a wide range of options to restore and interpret the former site of the light station. With the assistance of the restoration firm Frens and Frens, Inc. from West Chester, Pennsylvania, the Lewes Greenways and Trails Committee presented four separate levels that were designed for the project. Level one calls for the creation of a trail with interpretive signage and the removal of the woodwork and glass from the dilapidated keeper’s house, thus creating a bird and wildlife sanctuary out of the shell of the concrete dwelling at a cost of $124,000. Level two would preserve the existing “shells” of the former keeper’s house and oil house, as well as the creation of an interpretive trail at a cost of $250,000. Level three is designed to fabricate a replica of the former skeletal tower, as well as the creation of the interpretive trail at a cost of $642,000. Lastly, level four would essentially recreate the former light station by completely restoring the keeper’s dwelling, including the fabrication of the 100-foot skeletal tower and creation of the interpretive trail at a cost of $946,000.

Citizen input, environmental stewardship and availability of funds for the project will eventually determine the level of restoration and interpretation at the site of the former Delaware Breakwater Range Rear Light. Nonetheless, the Lewes Greenways and Trails Committee deserves a round of thanks from the lighthouse preservation world for their persistence and unwillingness to allow a vital part of Delaware’s lighthouse heritage to vanish into history.

This story appeared in the December 2002 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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