Timeline: Dutch Gap Canal

1864: Union troops dig a canal by removing 67,000 cubic yards of soil to open 174 yards of the canal so that Federal gunboats can move upriver to the Confederate defenses of Richmond.

1871: The canal is improved and dredged, cutting almost five miles off the loop around Farrar Island.

1873: Congress appropriates $15,000 on March 3, to construct two small beacons and a keeper’s dwelling at Dutch Gap Canal on the James River. The site is purchased from the city of Richmond at a “nominal” price and plans and specifications are prepared. The dwelling is to be a frame structure located on high ground between the two beacons, one at the upper end and the other at the lower end. The beacons are to be frame structures fitted with a sixth-order lens. Bids go out for construction.

1874: Proposals are received for the construction of the two beacons and keeper’s dwelling but are much higher than anticipated. It was decided to “build the structures by day’s work instead of contract”. Work is suspended.

1875: The two structures and dwelling are completed in January and first lighted on June 10. The two structures were 27-feet high from the base to the focal plane, located at the entrance of the canal. It was decided to try small lanterns which burned mineral oil.

1878: Both lights are changed from fixed white light to a fixed red light on March 1. The remaining small tower is washed away in December during bad storms and carried away three miles below the station. It was dismantled and the materials were stored at the buoy-depot.

1884: Two poles are made at Lazaretto depot in May to support lanterns. A new set of steps is built to replace the old ones.

1887: Congress appropriates funds to purchase a small strip of adjacent land.

1888: Due to erosion, the keeper’s dwelling is in danger of falling down the cliff. The appropriation made in 1887 to purchase additional land is deemed inadequate.

1889: Arrangements for the purchase of additional land is made.

1890: The keeper’s dwelling is moved 130 feet on rollers and placed on a new foundation away from the edge of the cliff. The chimney and front porch was removed, and the kitchen was detached prior to the move. A new kitchen was built, 11 feet 6 inches by 12 feet and the old structure was repaired and placed at the rear of the property to serve as a storehouse. A new 8 by 12 by 6 feet deep brick cistern is built.

1898: Material for an iron oil house is purchased.

1899: An iron oil house is built; repairs are made to the dwelling and 335 feet of plank walks are installed.

1918: The lights are discontinued. In October, the Dutch Gap Cut-Off light was established between the upper and lower lights. The new light flashes white every five seconds, 47-feet above the water from a square white house.

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

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