Great Wicomico River Lighthouse

On October 2, 1888, Congress appropriated $25,000 to build a lighthouse at the mouth of the Great Wicomico River on Virginia’s Western Shore. This would help guide mariners through two shallow shoals at the entrance of the river. Proposals for bids went out in January 1889 for the ironwork. The winning bid was for $13,975 to construct the ironwork for Great Wicomico and Holland Island Bar Lighthouse.

The screwpile superstructure was constructed at Lazaretto Depot in Maryland the same time as Holland Island Bar lighthouse. Both lighthouses were built on a barge so they could be towed to the site. On August 21, 1889, workers left Baltimore on the lighthouse tender Jessamine, as well as a barge loaded with materials for construction. After arriving at the site, the next day, they began placing the temporary platform in position. By September, the platform was completed, and the seven iron foundation piles were screwed into the shoal. By the end of September, the house was complete except for installing the ceiling on the second story, setting up the fog bell and construction the fuel platform under the house.

The hexagonal cottage style house was a white wooden house on seven piles with a black lantern equipped with a fourth-order fixed white light with two red sectors covering the shoals in the area. The fog bell was machine operated striking a double blow every fifteen seconds when needed. The light was first lighted on November 10, 1889.

The lighthouse was automated in July 1955 and dismantled in 1967. A skeletal tower with a light on top was mounted on the original screwpile foundation. By 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard felt that it was no longer structurally safe and recommended that it be discontinued. In 2015, the light was discontinued and the screwpile foundation was removed.

Head Keepers:  Samuel L. Nelson (1889 – 1919), James G. Williams (at least 1919), Joseph D. Farmer (1920 – 1923), William G. Rollinson (1925), Barney C. Thomas (1925 – 1926), A.B. Sadler (1926 – at least 1930), J. R. Edwards (at least 1930), Robert H. Matthews (1936 – 1941), H.L. Matthews ( – 1943), Elmer M. Goodwin (1943)

Assistant: Joseph D. Farmer (1889 – 1920), Robert H. Mathews (at least 1921 – 1923), Frank R. Lewis (1923 – 1932), N.H. Lewis (at least 1930), William A. Gibbs (1933), William L. Davidson (1937 – 1938), John W. Parks (at least 1939)

1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
2. Forgotten Beacons, Patrick Hornberger & Linda Turbyville, 1997.

Updated 9/4/2020

TIMELINE GPS: 37.81939,-76.284495

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