|Fourteen Foot Bank, DE|
The channel between Joe Flogger Shoal and Miah Maull Shoal is about 1 ¼ miles broad, through which careful navigation is required at night, and a light on the lower end of the former would enable vessels to go through safely. There is a small bank, with 14 feet of water on it, southeast by compass, and distant about one mile from Joe Flogger Shoal, which can be removed for much less than it would cost to properly mark it. About seven miles above the lower end of Joe Flogger Shoal and on the opposite side of the channel is Cross Ledge Shoal, on which is now being constructed a light-house to take the place of the light-ship. It is suggested that when the light is established at Cross Ledge, authority be given the Light-House Board to place the light-ship near the lower end of Joe Flogger Shoal.
The above paragraph was included in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1875. After the Cross Ledge Lighthouse was completed in late 1875, lightship LV 19 was withdrawn, repaired, and then redeployed the following summer at Fourteen Foot Bank. During the winter, heavy ice floes often forced LV 19 to abandon its post and seek refuge behind the Delaware Breakwater. Noting that the importance of this station was “second to none” in the Delaware River and Bay, the Lighthouse Board recommended in 1878 that a “light-house should be built on the lower end of Joe Flogger Shoal.” Though the estimated cost would be a hefty $150,000, the required maintenance expense would be less than that of the lightship.
The interior space was lit by paraffin candles, allowing the men to shovel the sand out from the edge of the cylinder. The accumulated sand was blown to the surface through a 4-inch pipe. When the stoppers were removed from both ends of the pipe, the sudden decrease in pressure caused severe condensation in the chamber. The atmosphere became so foggy that the men could only see a few feet, and the blowing of the sand had to be limited to short fifteen to thirty-second bursts. The caisson would typically sink one to two feet a day, and as the cylinder disappeared into the shoal, additional courses were bolted in place above and then filled with cement. On August 28 the required depth of thirty-three feet, four inches below the original surface of the shoal was reached.
To house the work crew, the old steamer Moro Castle was moored at the site by six anchors. Shortly before work on the foundation was complete, the Moro Castle parted her moorings and started to drift toward the cylinder. To lessen the impending impact, a couple of alert workers dropped fenders over the side of the cylinder. When the vessel struck the foundation, the joints between the plates of iron on which some men were sitting opened up and latched on to a couple of the mens’ trousers. Not wanting to be left homeless, the men decided to slip out of their pants, which held them fast to the cylinder, and leap on board the errant ship.
Concrete was poured to within thirteen feet eleven inches of the top of the fluted cylinder, and the remaining space was reserved for Ericsson engines, a Daboll fog trumpet, fuel compartments, and cast-iron water tanks. Due to the lateness of the season, this work was postponed until the following year, and a two-room, frame house was built inside the cylinder to house two keepers who would mind a makeshift beacon that winter. A temporary platform was placed over a portion of the cylinder to support a fourth-order lantern taken from the east end of the Delaware Breakwater. During that first winter, the two keepers were instrumental in saving the crew of a tug that had been sliced open and sunk by floating ice.
The Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse was activated for the first time in April of 1887 and exhibited a white light with red sectors covering the dangerous Brown and Joe Flogger Shoals. This station was the first assignment in the lengthy career of Chester P. Joseph. During the winter of 1917-1918, Keeper Joseph was stranded at the station for three straight months, as heavy ice floes prevented any relief from reaching the lighthouse. Joseph and the other marooned keeper busied themselves with every conceivable task, but life soon became monotonous. The ice fields that occasionally banged against the foundation did provide some excitement, as they would cause any unsecured item on a table or countertop to slowly migrate to the edge and fall off. After the ordeal, Joseph confessed, “I don’t believe I ever was as tired looking at one person in my life.”
The final Coast Guard crew left the Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse in 1973, after which an electric cable stretching to the mainland supplied the power for the light. Back-up diesel generators were housed at the station in case the commercial power was interrupted. Later, the light was solarized, and the original fourth-order, Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens removed from the lantern room. In 2000, the Coast Guard loaned the historic lens to the Lewes Historical Society. The lens is currently on display inside the society’s Maritime Museum housed inside the Cannonball House, so named due to the cannonball fired during the Bombardment of Lewes that is permanently lodged in the building.
Besides continuing its primary role as an aid to navigation, the Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse also serves the Delaware Bay Observing System for the University of Delaware’s College of Marine Studies. Sophisticated monitoring equipment continually collects weather and oceanographic data that is relayed to the university’s campus for use in predictive modeling.
In 2005, the lighthouse was excessed by the Coast Guard and offered to qualified government entities or nonprofit organizations under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. The American Lighthouse Foundation, which has a proven track record in lighthouse preservation and was committed to allowing the University of Delaware’s work to continue, applied for the Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse, but no applicant was recommended to receive ownership. The lighthouse was placed on the auction block on July 16, 2007 and was finally sold, after several extensions, on September 4, 2007 for $200,000. The new owner, Michael L. Gabriel, plans to use the lighthouse, along with Chesapeake Bay's Bloody Point Lighthouse that he purchased in 2006, as a summer residence.
In August of 2009, Gabriel announced that he would be dedicating a room in each of his offshore lighthouses to a brewery. “I’m starting this process with Bloody Point and Fourteen Foot before moving on to Borden Flats,” Gabriel explained. “We’re not talking about a huge amount of beer here, something like 20 to 40 barrels a week that we will look to sell to local restaurants and breweries. My hope is to have the breweries pay for the lighthouse’s ongoing maintenance. We will already be using the desalination process in here to create water, but the device I am purchasing creates so much more water than we will need, and this seemed like a great use for it. We want to create a unique beer here, and it will be unique — the only one made from seawater.”
As the desalination systems costs around $100,000 and renovating the lighthouse will be more than that, having a money generating operation isn't a bad idea. Though an official name hasn't been selected for the beer, Sea Ale and Lighthouse Brew have been considered.
Located in Delaware Bay, almost 12 miles
off Bowers Beach. The Fresnel lens formerly used in the lighthouse can be seen in the Cannonball House Museum in Lewes. The museum, located at the intersection of Front and Bank Streets in Lewes, can be reached at (302) 645-7670.
The lighthouse is privately owned. Tower closed.
The Fresnel lens formerly used in the lighthouse can be seen in the Cannonball House Museum in Lewes. The museum, located at the intersection of Front and Bank Streets in Lewes, can be reached at (302) 645-7670.
The lighthouse is privately owned. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.