Nansemond River

Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

Due to increased river traffic in the Nansemond area, Congress appropriated $15,000 on July 31, 1876, to construct a lighthouse Pig Point on the eastern side of the entrance to the Nansemond River in Suffolk, Virginia. The following year, a tract of land was obtained from the Governor of Virginia to construct the light.

The framing for the superstructure of the lighthouse was started at the Lazaretto Depot in Maryland on February 26th and completed by the end of March 1878. The metalwork is taken from the foundation of the old lighthouse at Roanoke Marshes, North Carolina.

Materials and workers were loaded on the lighthouse tender Tulip on July 5, 1878. After a five-day trip from Baltimore, the lighthouse arrived at the site. After engineers determined that the bottom of the river was too hard to use screwpiles, wooden piles were encased in cast iron sleeves. On July 18, piles for the foundation began and were completed by the 22nd. Construction of the hexagonal, white, six-room cottage began and was completed in August. It was originally equipped with a sixth-order lens fueled by mineral oil with a fixed red light and Stevens fog bell with a single blow every 7 seconds. It is first lighted on November 1, 1878. The lens was later replaced in 1899 with a fifth-order Fresnel lens.

In 1915, Nansemond River Lighthouse was awarded the lighthouse efficiency pennant by the Bureau of Lighthouses and Department of Commerce. This was the highest honor awarded in recognition of good and efficient work done by lightkeepers. Head Keeper Temple Ripley was awarded the inspector’s efficiency gold star.

On May 23, 1933, the Superintendent of lighthouses began the process for automating the lighthouse which would change the light from oil to acetylene, discontinue use of the fog bell, and discontinue the position of keeper and assistant keeper. The change was approved on June 2, 1933. The sixth-order lens was still used but changed from a fixed red to flashing white light. It remained in use until the structure started to deteriorate. In 1935 it was deactivated and dismantled and replaced with an automated light on a skeletal tower that was mounted on the remaining screwpile foundation, where it remained an active aid to navigation until 1974.

Head Keepers: Rufus E. Potter (1878 – 1881), William A. Bond (1881 – 1882), Exum White (1882 – 1883), Lewis T. Jackson (1883 – 1885), John A. Jones (1885 – 1890), Alphonso Royster (1890 – 1891), Eugene M. Edwards (1891 – 1906), John F. Hudgins (1906 – 1907), Charles E. Kirwan (1907 – 1908), Temple Ripley (1908 – at least 1926), P.S. Midgett (at least 1930)

Assistant: William A. Bond (1878 – 1881), Exum White (1881 – 1882), Jordan Thompson (1882), Harrison R. Smith (1883 – 1884), George W. Warrell (1884 – 1885), Alphonzo Royster ( 1884 – 1889), William Walker (1889), George C. Darden (1889 – 1891), George W. Worrell (1891), Francis O. Rawls (1891 – 1892), John A. Southall (1892), Elbert Bond (1892), John Ash (1892 – 1893), Augustus C. Thornett (1893), Kenneth Knight (1893 – 1895), John F. Hudgins (1895 – 1896), Leroy C. Higinbotham (1896 – 1897), Alpheus W. Georgia (1897 – 1898), John F. Jarvis (1898 – 1902), Walter M. Burgess (1902), W.S. Harrison (1902 – 1903), George W. Taylor (1903), E.L. Edwards (1903), Solomon P. Forbes (1903 – 1904), Ella L. Edwards (1904), Edward D. Parham (1904 – 1908), Robert G. Hudgins (1908 – 1913), John M. Marchant (1913 – at least 1915), Rufus T. Hunley (1916 – 1917), Edward L. Thomas (1917), Grover C. Burroughs (1917 – ), Edward L. Thomas ( – 1919), G. Stillman Hudgins (1919), William H. Etheridge (1919 – ), Theodore S. Twiford (at least 1921)

Sources:
1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
2. Forgotten Beacons, Patrick Hornberger & Linda Turbyville, 1997.
3. Screwpiles, The Forgotten Lighthouses, Larry Saint, Karla Smith, John H. Sheally II, Phyllis Speidell, 2018
4. The Evening Star, August 27, 1915

Updated 8/17/2019

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