One of the most iconic images of the east coast, particularly of New England, is the statuesque white lighthouse extending into the sky. For generations, lighthouses protected sailors and guarded the coast from harm. Although many cities along the Atlantic Coast may boast lighthouses, few have the unique and interesting history of the one that is still standing on Fenwick Island. For those who are interested in a little slice of history, or any who simply want to view an iconic lighthouse that is still standing, be sure the visit the Fenwick Island Lighthouse!
History of the Island
This small island has seen a lot of action throughout its history. It is named for Thomas Fenwick, a planter who immigrated to Delaware from England. Fenwick was granted ownership of the land by Lord Baltimore, the Governor of the Province of Maryland. Fenwick never lived there, but a fun local legend claims that he fled to the island after being thrown overboard by pirates. Although this myth is often debunked by historians, it is true that the island has a pirate past. After Fenwick died, pirates took advantage of the abandoned island and used it as a safe haven of sorts. Eventually, the land was declared to the state of Delaware, and the need for a lighthouse arose.
Construction of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse
Due to the dangerous shoals around the Fenwick Island coast, the United States Congress commissioned the Fenwick Island Lighthouse for $25,000 in 1856. The land it is built on was purchased for just $50, and construction was completed in 1858. At the time, the Fenwick Island Lighthouse was built with the latest technology, and was designed for two keepers, along with their families, to live on the surrounding land. The lighthouse is 87 feet tall, with a cast iron spiral staircase inside that leads to the top. The mirror that reflects the light was imported from France. Originally, the Fenwick Island light was lit using whale oil, but it was converted to electric in 1940. The Fenwick Island Lighthouse stood for over 100 years, until it was decommissioned in 1978.
After it was decommissioned, the lighthouse stood dark for many years. A group of passionate local citizens rallied to save the lighthouse, and its ownership was transferred to the state of Delaware. In 1982, the lighthouse was relit, but it needed extensive repairs. A successful fundraiser allowed it to be renovated, and the Fenwick Island Lighthouse was rededicated in 1998.
The Fenwick Island Lighthouse Today
Today, the lighthouse is managed by a non-profit group, New Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse. Visitors are welcome to view the lighthouse and visit the small museum on site, free of charge. There is also a small gift shop. Although you cannot head to the top, there are some great historical artifacts from this era of Delaware history that are worth perusing!