Chris J LeBlanc Photography - Lighthouses
Providing details and historical information of  lighthouse pictures taken during my travels
New Cape Henry Lighthouse
Fort Story, Virginia
© 2012 - Chris J LeBlanc  Photographer
Location:  Located on the grounds of Fort Story on the southern side of the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay.
Latitude:  N 36.92636
Longitude:  W 76.00731

Year Constructed:  1881. Active
Tower Height:  164 feet    Focal Plane:  157 feet

Octagonal cast-iron-clad brick tower, original 1st order Fresnel lens. Unusual daymark: alternating black and white vertical bands; lantern is black.
Historical Information:

  • Location:  Fort Story, Virginia (near Virginia Beach), Chesapeake Bay entrance
  • Date Built:  Original tower - 1792, current tower - 1881
  • Type of Structure:  Tower constructed out of cast iron plate on a masonry foundation
  • Markings / Pattern:  Vertical black and white stripes
  • Height:  180 feet above mean high water
  • Characteristics:  Flashing white with red sector
  • Foghorn:  Yes
  • Range:  17 miles
  • Status:  Standing and Active

  • In 1872 the Lighthouse Board recommended the building of a new tower, stating that the old tower was in an unsafe condition and that there was no way of repairing it satisfactorily. "It is in danger of being thrown down by some heavy gale." It was not until 1875 that Congress appropriated $75,000 "for rebuilding and remodeling the lighthouse at Cape Henry."
  • In 1879 a contract for a new iron lighthouse, consisting of cast-iron plates backed by masonry walls, was entered into and after two more appropriations of $25,000 each in 1880 and 1881, the new tower was completed and the light first shown on December 15, 1881.  The old tower remained standing and became one of the antiquities of the State of Virginia, serving as a monument commemorating the landing of John Smith.  It is now open to the public.
  • The new structure was 170 feet in height and the lantern was equipped with a first-order lens, the lamp having five concentric wicks. A steam siren fog signal was also established. An incandescent oil-vapor lamp, burning kerosene vapor, replaced the wick lamp in 1912. This increased the intrinsic brilliancy, but decreased the area lit. The candlepower, however, was increased from 6,000 to 22,000. The candlepower has now been increased to 80,000 for the white light, with 16,000-candlepower red sector covering the shoals outside the cape and the middle ground inside the bay. The light is 164 feet above water and visible 19 miles. This station is also equipped with a diaphone fog signal and a radio beacon.  The light was fully automated in 1984.
On December 14, 1881, the light source was removed from the original Cape Henry Lighthouse and placed in the newly constructed iron tower. Keeper Jay D. Edwards transferred his attention to the iron structure the following day, when the new light, with a focal plane of 157 feet and a range of 18 ¾ miles, was exhibited for the first time. In one day, the old tower transitioned from a lighthouse to an historic landmark.

This new light was composed of enormous cast-iron plates bolted together, this was a tall order indeed (the tallest cast-iron, fully enclosed lighthouse in the United States, in fact).

The two towers continue to stand side-by-side on the southerly Cape of Chesapeake Bay, one of the most important shipping channels in the nation. The vital ports of Norfolk, Newport News, Baltimore and Washington are all accessed through the Chesapeake, and the Cape Henry lighthouses have provided over two hundred years of uninterrupted aid to navigation.

The New Cape Henry Lighthouse is adorned with one of the most distinctive daymarks to be found on a lighthouse anywhere in the world. Its stark octagonal tower alternates between white and black on its various faces, and midway up this pattern is offset by one face, producing a checkerboard-like effect.

During the twentieth century the Cape Henry Lighthouse saw many technological upgrades; these have accumulated to make it the very modern aid to navigation station that it is today. In 1912 an incandescent oil-vapor lamp replaced a lamp with five concentric oil-burning wicks. The light’s signature was originally fixed white with a red sector covering "the shoals outside of Cape Charles and the Middle Ground that extend from the entrance into the Chesapeake Bay." In 1922, when the station was converted to electricity, the signature was changed to a distinctive group-flashing light.

In times of fog, two machine-operated bells struck simultaneously every five seconds accompanied the operation of the light. Later, a fog signal sounded by compressed air was installed. This signal was synchronized with a radio beacon, so that approaching vessels could ascertain their distance from shore even if they couldn’t see the light. The radio was installed in 1929, making Cape Henry the second lighthouse in the United States to deploy such a device. The Cape Henry station was also home to a fog signal testing laboratory, where investigations were conducted for the benefit of the entire Lighthouse Service. Indeed the station has been of great scientific importance, as experiments in radar and wind-generated electricity were also conducted there. In 1996, Cape Henry leaped into the twenty first century when a Differential Global Positioning System was installed.

Since 1984, the Cape Henry light has been fully automated, rendering the presence of a keeper unnecessary.

New and Old Cape Henry Lighthouses in 1905
Photograph courtesy Library of Congress
Historic Postcard of the New Cape Henry Lighthouse at Night
My Lighthouse Photo Album
Lighthouses Viewed ...
By Chris J LeBlanc
Photo book
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My Lighthouse Photo Album
Lighthouses Viewed ...
By Chris J LeBlanc
Photo book
Book Preview
My Lighthouse Photo Album
Lighthouses Viewed...
By Chris J LeBlanc
Book Preview
Photo book
Historic Postcard of the New Cape Henry Lighthouse from 1909