The lighthouse was authorized to be built in 1856 at a cost of $23,748.96. Work was begun on the 87-foot tall tower in 1857 and first lit on August 1, 1858. The light was needed to protect shipping from the treacherous Fenwick sand shoals that extend several miles out from the Delaware coast. The tower has an unusual design in that the outer brick tower is conical, while a second inner brick tower is an 8-foot diameter cylinder.
A two-story house for the keeper and his assistant was also built. In 1882, a second house was erected, allowing the keeper and assistant to have separate quarters.
It was initially fitted with a third-order Fresnel lens, which is still in place. In 1879 the lard oil flame was converted to a kerosene lamp. At the same time, the characteristic of the light was changed from a steady white light to a flashing light. A revolving eclipser was installed that rotated around the light, causing the appearance of a flash every 13 seconds.
The light was automated in 1940 and both keepers quarters were sold. They are still privately owned.
In 1978 the Coast Guard deactivated the light and removed all equipment. In 1982 the lighthouse was deeded to the State of Delaware who then leased it to the Friends of Fenwick Island Lighthouse. Through the efforts of the Friends, the third-order Fresnel lens was put back into the tower and the light was relit in May of 1982.
The site of the lighthouse is also unusual. It sits exactly on the eastern origin of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The lighthouse is open most days, weather permitting. Visitors are allowed in the base to view a mini-museum and often a volunteer is available to answer questions and give historical information on the Lighthouse. For more information, visit the Friends of Fenwick Island web site.
Photo taken September 2007 by Tony Pasek.
Head Keepers: John Smith (1859 – 1861), William R. Hall (1861 – 1869), David M. Warrington (1869 – 1874), James H. Bell (1874), David M. Warrington (1874 – 1876), James H. Bell (1876), Samuel H. Vaughan (1876), John A Gunn (1876 – 1880), Jehu D. Bennett (1880 – 1907), Samuel Soper (1907 – 1910), Willis B. Pardee (1910 – at least 1913), Alva F. Stites (at least 1915 – 1927), Charles L. Gray (1927 – 1940), Arthur Aydelotte (1940 – 1945), Neil Gray (1945 – 1948), John C. Gray (1948)
Assistant: Handy Hickman (1859), Levin Smith (1859 – 1861), John C. Hall (1861 – 1865), George K. Lloyd (1865 – 1867), John C. Hall (1867 – 1869), William E. Pepper (1869 – 1885), Elias T. Elliott (1885 – 1889), William T. Brasure, Jr. (1889 – 1895), James K. Rickards (1895 – 1906), Samuel D. Bennett (1906), Oather F. Kirby (1906 – 1908), John S. Pusey (1908 – 1909), Willis B. Pardee (1909 – 1910), Charles H. Truitt (1910), Alva F. Stites (1910 – 1914), Charles L. Gray (1914 – 1926), George Walker (at least 1930)
GPS: 38.451908, -75.055161