The East End Lighthouse, also known as the Harbor of Refuge Light, holds a prominent place in the landscape and history of Lewes, Delaware. As a testament to the rich maritime legacy of the area, it has stood for over a century and remains an iconic symbol of Lewes' enduring charm and character.
The lighthouse is located at the mouth of the Delaware Bay and has been a guiding light for mariners navigating through the perilous waters since it was first illuminated on October 1, 1901. The East End Lighthouse is situated within the confines of the Harbor of Refuge Breakwater, which is itself a historic engineering marvel constructed to protect ships during harsh weather.
History and Construction The construction of the East End Lighthouse was necessitated by the need for an improved navigational aid to help mariners bypass the hazards of the Delaware Bay. The lighthouse was the second one built in the area; the first, the Breakwater Light, was built in 1885 but proved to be insufficient.
The East End Lighthouse is a "sparkplug" style lighthouse, a design that was popular in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Standing 52 feet tall, it is an imposing cylindrical tower, made of cast iron, and lined with bricks for durability. Its light could be seen from as far as 17 nautical miles away, an essential aid for seafarers.
The East End Lighthouse was automated in 1950, meaning it no longer required a resident keeper. The automation was part of a wider trend across the country as lighthouses began to shift towards more efficient and less manpower-intensive methods of operation.
Preservation Efforts After decades of wear and tear, the East End Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1995 by the U.S. Coast Guard and was left vacant. However, recognizing the historical value of the structure, the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation (DRBLHF) undertook efforts to preserve and restore the lighthouse. The Foundation gained ownership of the lighthouse in 2004 and has since been diligently working on its restoration.
Visiting the East End Lighthouse Today, the East End Lighthouse is not just an iconic landmark but also a popular tourist attraction. The DRBLHF offers tours of the lighthouse during the warmer months of the year, weather permitting. Visitors can access the lighthouse via boat tours that depart from the Lewes terminal.
The lighthouse tour gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of lighthouse keepers, the challenges they faced, and the critical role they played in maritime safety. It also provides a unique opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of Lewes, the Delaware Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Visiting the East End Lighthouse is not just about stepping into a piece of maritime history; it's about experiencing a beacon that has weathered storms, both literal and metaphorical, and continues to stand tall. Its tale is a fascinating blend of engineering, perseverance, and a commitment to maritime safety.
The East End Lighthouse continues to be a symbol of Lewes' heritage. Its steadfast presence reminds us of the seafarers who once relied on its light, the keepers who maintained it, and the community that fought to preserve it. It stands as a poignant reminder of the power of light to guide us home, no matter how challenging the journey.