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New and Old Lighthouses, Cape Henry, Virginia
New and Old Lighthouses, Cape Henry, Virginia
17 in. x 11 in.
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Old Cape Henry Lighthouse

Chesapeake Bay, Fort Henry, Virginia

Old Cape Henry Lighthouse

Light Location: Fort Henry, Virginia Beach, Virginia

First Built: 1791-1792

First Lit: October 1, 1792

Last Lit: December 15, 1881

Built By: Virginia and Maryland Governments provided funds for Aquia stone but the lighthouse was not built until much later, though with the same stone. It was built by a New York bricklayer, John McComb.

Current Tower Construction & Facts:

  • Year Built: 1792
  • Tower Height: 90 feet
  • Material: 20 feet below sea level with Aquia stone. Diameter is 33 feet, exterior wall is 11 feet thick. It is circular for the first four feet and then is an octagonal pyramid for 92 feet to the latern. The upper part of the lighthouse is Rappahannock freestone. The lantern is an additional 13 feet.
  • Shape: Octagonal pyramid
  • Optic: Originally First-order Fresnel Lens (1857) - destroyed by Confederate Raiders. Lens was replaced in 1863. Originally burned fish oil until the early 1800s, it was then replaced by whale oil.
  • Decommissioned: 1881

Fog Signal Facts:

  • A fogbell was installed in 1855

Currently Owned By: Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities - deeded by Congress on June 18, 1930

Currently Managed By: Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities

Accessibility: Open 10 am to 4 pm November-March, 10 am to 5 pm March-October. Closed Thanksgiving, December 5-January 4. Admission $3.00 adults, $2.00 children 6-12.

Special Facts:

  • Was the first federal work project of the US Government
  • First authorized lighthouse by the First US Congress
  • Cost $17,000
  • Is the third oldest lighthouse still standing in the US
  • The oldest lighthouse on Chesapeake Bay

Involvement in Wars:

  • Civil War
    • Confederate troops damaged it so that it would be useless for the North
    • A lightship served until the light was repaired.
    • Was repaired by Union troops in 1863
  • Used by the Army as an observation post in 1928.


  • Laban Goffigan, 1st keeper - late October 1792
  • Jay D. Edwards - last keeper


  1. Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. "Cape Henry Lighthouse--APVA" [Online] Available, February 28, 2005.

  2. DeWire, Elinor. "Cape Henry Lighthouse" [Online] Available, March 3, 2005.

  3. Payette, Phil. "Old Cape Henry" [Online] Available, February 28, 2005.

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