Cape Henry (Old) Lighthouse

A provision for building a lighthouse at Cape Henry, at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, was made by Congress on March 26, 1790. The amount was for $24,076.66. The light was to be an octagonal structure with three windows in the east and four windows in the west rising 72 feet from the water table to the top of the stone work. The two-story house to be a residence for the keeper and for safe storage of the oil to be used for the light was also to be constructed. Builder for this lighthouse was John McComb. The original Cape Henry Light was completed in 1792.
The light first consisted of oil lamps burning in turn fish oil, sperm oil, colza oil, lard oil, and finally kerosene after the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859.

In 1857 the lighthouse was provided with a dioptric Fresnel lens. However, the fixed white light was confusing and in 1922 Cape Henry light’s characteristic was changed to a distinctive group flashing light.

During the Civil War the lantern of Cape Henry lighthouse was destroyed by Confederate raiders. It was back in operation by 1863 being protected by a military guard detailed from Fortress Monroe.

By 1872 the old tower had developed cracks in the walls and it was decided to rebuild. The new cast iron tower was completed in 1881.

The lighthouse hours of operation and admission prices can be found on the Preservation Virginia website.


Drive time is 16 minutes and 7.4 miles from the intersection of US Route 13 and 60.  From the Intersection of US Route 13 and US Route 60, (East of Norfolk, West of Virginia Beach and just South of the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel) Go east on US Route 60 (Shore Drive) for about 5 miles until you see the sign for Fort Story.  This will be Atlantic Avenue, turn left on to Atlantic Ave. into the entrance to Fort Story.  At the guard house, the guard may ask for ID.  Go 2.4 miles to the parking area on the right.

The old tower is on the right and the new tower is directly across the street on the left.  





GPS: 36.925795, -76.008182


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