York Spit Lighthouse was built in 1870 in the Chesapeake Bay about 5 miles east of Rue Point at the southern entrance to the York River, Virginia. It was to mark a long shoal that paralleled the main channel into the York River eight miles into the Chesapeake Bay.
Prior to the construction of the lighthouse, multiple lightships had been stationed. The first lightship, LV-T, which had seen service at Wolf Trap previously, was stationed at York Spit beginning in 1855. The vessel was a 150-ton, 81’-6” long schooner built in 1856 by the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It was constructed of white oak planking with copper and iron fastenings. The lantern had 8 oil lamps and reflectors that were raised on the rear mast. An iron daymark was mounted on each masthead. It was also equipped with a twenty-two-inch diameter fog bell at the forward part of the ship. It remained in service until the Confederates captured and removed it in 1861.
The station remained vacant until the next lightship, LV-12, was stationed in 1863. This vessel was built in 1846 in Philadelphia. It was a 159-ton, 72-foot wooden schooner equipped with a single lantern with 8 lard oil lamps and reflectors, as well as a hand-operated bell. It was removed on August 2, 1864.
From 1864 to 1867, the station remained vacant. In 1867, the next lightship, LV-24, is placed at the station. This vessel was a yellow-hulled, wooden schooner. It was temporarily removed in September 1869 to install a new lantern-mast and LV-21 was sent to replace it.
On November 15, 1870, the lightship is permanently removed when the fifth-order light is exhibited for the first time at the new lighthouse. The lighthouse was a two-story, hexagonal screwpile lighthouse supported by 14 iron-encased wooden piles in twelve feet of water, with two extended decks. There were also two additional fender piles, one on each of the ebb and flow sides of the structure for additional stability against ice flows. In 1886, an enclosed tower resembling a small lighthouse was constructed on the edge of one of the decks and on top of the existing fog bell.
In 1903, 1,150 tons of riprap stone is placed around the piles to protect the foundation from erosion, and in June another 1,200 additional tons were placed around the lighthouse to protect it.
After a severe storm on August 24, 1933, Keeper William J. Diggs recorded the following report:
“I am writing to state condition of station after storm at 6:30 a.m. Floors began to burst up, wind increasing, tide coming up. Sea higher at 8:30 a.m. Sailboat broke away. Sea breaking over deck. All lower works badly damaged. At 9:30 a.m., total wreck on lower floor. Oil tanks broke away and did a lot of damage to ironwork and sills before getting clear. Cookstove completely gone. All cooking utensils gone. Lot of decking and handrail broke away. Station is now in very bad condition. I did not think it would stand. It could not if wind had continued so forceful it almost lifted house off structure a good many times.”
After finding the keeper’s boat nearly 20 miles away in Cape Charles, it was first assumed that Diggs had drowned, but he survives by holding on to the fog bell and is eventually saved by a passing fisherman. The other keeper made it to shore as well.
An automated flashing beacon replaced the lighthouse in 1960 and the lighthouse was dismantled. A recent hurricane ripped the platform and remaining building from the structure. The flashing beacon was then repositioned on a single pile.
Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.
- Timeline: York Spit Lighthouse
- Keeper Bio: Clarence Walter Salter
- Keeper Bio: Wesley Foster Ripley
- Keeper Bio: Charles Edwin Respess
- Keeper Bio: Frank Raymond Lewis
- Keeper Bio: John Filmore Hudgins
- Keeper Bio: William James Diggs
Head Keepers: George H. Selden (1870 – 1872), William E. Crockett (1872 – 1873), George Selden (1873 – 1881), James K. Hudgins (1881 – 1886), James E. Lewellen (1886 – 1898), Charles F. Hudgins (1898 – 1899), Richard S. Daniels (1899), Charles E. Respess (1899 – 1903), John F. Hudgins (1903 – 1906), Walter S. Hudgins (1906 – 1910), John F. Hudgins (1909 – 1921), John E. Morgan (1921 – at least 1923), William J. Diggs (at least 1924 – at least 1942), Leon W. Hudgins (1944 – 1945)
First Assistant: James H. Blen (1870), Charles H. Carter (1870 – 1871), John P. Crabb (1871 – 1872), William Washington (1872 – 1873), Philip Todd (1873 – 1874), W.L. Vessels (1874), John P. Crabb (1874 – 1875), William H. Lee (1875 – 1879), Parker Kelly (1879 – 1881), Dennis Bourbon (1881 – 1883), W.F. Ripley (1883 – 1886), James E. Lewellen (1886), John R. Lawson (1886 ), Garnett Moreland (1887), Andrew J. Moore (1887), T. B. Shields (1887 – 1888), Charles B. Bohannon (1888), James B. Hurst (1888 – 1891), James W. Washington (1891), John B. Wallace (1891 – 1892), John Redcross (1892), William B. Dennis (1892 – 1894), Robert T. Crockett (1894), Charles W. Davis (1895), Charles S. Spencer (1895 – 1899), Alexander P. Hurst (1899 – 1903), Isaac C. Meekins (1903), Clarence W. Salter (1903 – 1904), Edward D. Parham (1904), R. H. Sterling (1904), Clarence W. Salter (1904 – 1908), Charles A. White (1908 – 1909), H. T. McGrath (1909), George A. Dow (1909 – 1917), Augustus T. Midgett (1917 ), William J. Diggs (1917 – at least 1922), Benjamin D. Preston (1920 – 1921), George C. Hunley (1922 – 1925), Benjamin D. Preston (1925 – ), John L. Callis (at least 1926 – at least 1940)
Second Assistant: William T. Selden (1870 – 1871), Judy Selden (1871 – 1872), John Davis (1872 – 1873), Thomas Hunt (1873), W.L. Vessels (1873 – 1874), John P. Crabb (1874 – 1875), Robert B. Crabb (1875 – 1879), Shedrack Tucker (1879 – 1882), Selden Banks (1882)
1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
2. Lightships-Floating Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic, Wayne Kirklin, 2007.
3. Forgotten Beacons, Patrick Hornberger & Linda Turbyville, 1997.
4. U.S. Lighthouse Service Bulletins: September 1933