Timeline: White Shoal Lighthouse

1850: The U. S. Lighthouse Board authorizes $3,500 for preliminary work in the engineering & design for four lighthouses on the James River.

1852: Congress appropriates $1,000 for a beacon on White Shoal, August 31, 1852.

1854: Construction of a square cottage supported by five, five-inch diameter wooden piles covered with a cast-iron screw sleeve, begins on White Shoal lighthouse.

1855: The light is exhibited for the first time on February 6th. It is equipped with a seventh-order lens (a large masthead lens suspended in the lantern room). It is also equipped with a fog bell that is operated manually.

1857: The keeper on duty fears for his safety and leaves the station due to severe ice floes.

1859: The lighthouse is damaged by fire.

1861: Keeper W.A. Hines and his assistant, Nathaniel Gray, are seized from the lighthouse by armed Confederates.

1862: The lens is removed and stored at Fortress Monroe after the withdrawal of the army from the Peninsula.

1864: On May 16, lighthouse engineer G. Castor Smith reports that all James River lights are re-established and fitted with a sixth-order lens.

1865: The lighthouse is slightly damaged during the Civil War and is provided with a new lighting apparatus and fog bell and temporarily put back in service.

1866: Keeper W.A. Hines and assistant keeper Nathaniel Gray file claims for unpaid back pay during their service in 1861.

1867: A new boat is supplied to the lighthouse.

1868: Various repairs are made; foundation ironwork, the railing around the walkway are repaired, the tin roof is painted, and new glass is set in the windows. It is recommended that a Franklin lamp be substituted for the current lamp.

1869: The lighthouse is reported to be in an unsafe condition caused by dangerous ice floes. The structure is tilted one-foot west from the top of the structure. It is recommended that a new lighthouse be constructed. Congress appropriates $10,500 for construction of the new lighthouse which will be similar to Deep Water Shoals.

1870: Construction begins on the new hexagonal shaped lighthouse. The original 5-inch diameter wooden piles are to be replaced with 16-inch diameter wrought-iron screwpiles. Extra piles are also placed in the primary direction of the water flow to break up the ice.

1871: The new light, a sixth-order Fresnel lens, is exhibited for the first time on January 27th.

1873: The manual operated fog signal is replaced with a mechanical Steven’s striking mechanism, which strikes the bell once every ten seconds.

1881: The structure is painted inside and out, as well as various minor repairs made.

1883: New boat hoisters are installed.

1885: Assistant Keeper Edward H. Brown drowns on July 30th.

1899: One of the piles is reinforced by placing an iron band around it. New fifth-order lamps are supplied and various repairs are made in June.

1900: A red sector was put into the light on June 30.

1904: The fog bell striking apparatus is replaced by a new one in November.

1930: Assistant Keeper W.A. Gibbs assists the yacht Forest M., which became disabled on September 3. Five people were rescued from the yacht and taken to the lighthouse.

1932: On December 21, superintendent of lighthouses L.M. Hopkins recommends eliminating the lighthouse.

1933: On June 1, the last keeper, J.R. Edwards retires and is transferred to another station. All items of value are removed from the lighthouse. Orders for buoys are placed to replace the lighthouse at a cost of $18,198 on June 30.

1934: White Shoal lighthouse is deactivated and sold. An automated light on a steel skeleton tower was placed near the original light.

1977: Ice floes carry away the cottage structure, but the foundation survived.

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

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