With one turn of a key on June 21, 2003, Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation member Harry Spencer opened the padlock of Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse and history all in one motion. As Harry swung the heavy, creaking cast iron door, he turned and proudly announced to the first-ever tour group, “Welcome to Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse!” Following this moment, there was no hiding the exhilarating joy that radiated from the faces of the 21 visitors who reveled in the historic opportunity to tour the first offshore Delaware Bay lighthouse opened to the general public.
Once people walked inside the sentinel, lighthouse history unfolded with each step and turn as wide-eyed visitors listened and explored every nook and cranny of Harbor of Refuge during the exciting hour-long guided tour. From stories of terrifying storms to passionate present day volunteer restoration efforts, each person was able to learn about the history of the light station and gain a better understanding of the preservation challenges associated with caring for such an offshore lighthouse. As if the historic tour wasn’t enough, people also enjoyed a glimpse of maritime lore as the lighthouse afforded an inspiring panoramic view of the activity that shares the realm of Harbor of Refuge. Sights of pilot boats buzzing in and out of the protected harbor, silhouettes of ships at anchor dotting the hazy horizon and fishermen trawling for the bounty of the sea just off Cape Henlopen, Delaware, were a delightful bonus to a day that defied description for many of the visitors.
The fact that Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse now welcomes the public and a new generation of “lightkeepers” for educational tours is a resounding tribute to the dedication and passion of the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation and its members. The finest reward for any volunteer’s hard work was found on the faces of the happy visitors who enjoyed a moment that left its imprint on Delaware Bay lighthouse history. Harry Spencer, whose father was a long-time lightkeeper in the United States Lighthouse Service, captured the very essence of the tour, saying, “It was really a beautiful day.”
This story appeared in the
August 2003 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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