Even though the era of the lighthouse is rapidly vanishing, we are still drawn to the towers just as ships through the ages have been drawn to their mighty beacons of light.

Lighthouse searchers can find three in Southern Delaware, with a fourth in the process of restoration. Only one, the Harbor of Refuge, is an actual working light used for navigation purposes around the shoals of the Delaware coastline.

For additional lighthouse information and tour dates visit www.lighthousefriends.com/de.

The Fenwick Lighthouse

The lighthouse in Fenwick was constructed in 1859 on land purchased for $50. Because of the location, about one-quarter mile from the shoreline and lighthousefenwickon high ground, the lighthouse has been protected from every storm in or during the past century.

The lighthouse went into operation on Aug. 1, 1859, and on clear nights its mighty light could be seen 15 miles out to sea. The 87-foot lighthouse served boaters until 1978 when it was decommissioned. The current owners and interested local residents formed a Friends of the Fenwick Lighthouse to preserve the lighthouse and outbuildings for future generations to enjoy. The light and buildings are on the National Historic Register.

Another interesting landmark rests on the lighthouse property. A surveyor's mark from the 1751 team that settled the boundary dispute between Lord Baltimore and William Penn sits on the southern edge of the property. Tours are available 10:30 AM - 2:30 PM daily (except Sundays); call 302-539-4115.

The Breakwater Lighthouse

The lighthouse closest to the town of Lewes off Cape Henlopen State Park was decommissioned in 1994 and is currently 'for sale - the inner breakwater lighthousebreakwaterin 1829 and the Harbor of Refuge, or outer breakwater, was established in 1901. Massive granite boulders make up the breakwaters that have protected the coastline for more than a century.

The original breakwater was commissioned in 1828 by President John Quincy Adams. Just how the breakwater was constructed still baffles experts today. According to retired engineer and Lewes author and historian Eric Pearson, he would rather take on the "building of the pyramids than the outer breakwater at Cape Henlopen."

According to Pearson, fitting hundreds of 13-ton slabs of granite perfectly in 75 feet of water in the late 1800s is comparable to "going to Mars" today. "Even as an engineer I can't figure out how they built it," he said.

The outer breakwater, which is 1 1/2 miles long, was built because the water in the inner breakwater was too shallow for larger vessels. It took 40 years to construct the inner breakwater, but only five years to build the outer.

Even though the Breakwater Lighthouse is no longer used as an aide to navigation, its historic importance as a landmark is not overlooked by those in the shipping business.

The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse

Located just off the point of Cape Henlopen, the Harbor Refuge Lighthouse (or outer breakwater) is a working unmanned light maintained by the U.S. lighthouseharborrefugeCoast Guard. It is the only lighthouse still operating off the coastline of southern Delaware. Actually more of a marker, it is used by pilot boats that ferry supplies out to large ships.

The white, steel 75-foot lighthouse was built in 1901 as the final phase of the outer breakwater construction project which began in 1896.

The Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation will be offering public tours seasonally of the Harbor of Refuge. For information visit www.delawarebaylights.org or call 302-644-7046. Minimum age permitted for tour is 12.

The Mispillion Lighthouse

The Mispillion Lighthouse, originally constructed in 1873, provided a guiding beacon for mariners headed into Mispillion Inlet and the port facilities of lighthousemispillionMilford seven miles to the west. It was built in a stick Gothic style with an iron lantern and is the sole surviving wood-frame lighthouse in Delaware. It was decommissioned in 1929 when it was replaced by a steel-frame tower operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2002, it suffered severe damage and fire as a result of a lightening strike. The Mispillion was recently purchased by John & Sally Freeman of Washington, DC. It will be moved to a location in Shipcarpenter Square in Lewes, DE where it will begin the restoration process.

Sources: Southern Delaware Explorer, April 1997, Ronald MacArthur; Cape Gazette, May 2004, Dennis Forney; LighthouseFriends.com.

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