|Reedy Island Rear Range, DE|
Description: Near the end of the 19th century, commercial interests in Philadelphia felt that they were at a great disadvantage compared to other major port cities due to the shallowness of the Delaware River. The drafts of large ocean carriers exceeded the depth of the Delaware River, forcing these vessels to call at New York, Boston, or Baltimore. To remedy this situation, a “Joint Committee on the Improvement of the Harbor of Philadelphia and the Delaware and Schuykill Rivers” was formed. This committee urged the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge a new 30-foot-deep and 600-foot-wide channel in the Delaware River, based on the following reasoning:
The importance of this improvement to the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, and the great West, can hardly be overstated. The Delaware River is the natural maritime outlet of an area of over 54,000 square miles, with a population of nearly 7,000,000 people. This area covers the manufacturing, coal, iron, steel, oil, and shipbuilding centers of the United States; and without a proper channel to the sea, the movement of these products to the markets of the world is embarrassed, and the cost of transportation is greatly increased.
Swayed by this argument, Congress passed a river and harbor act on March 3, 1899 that authorized this improvement. As the new channel did not always align with the existing channel, the Lighthouse Service was forced to relocate some of its existing range lights and erect additional ones. In 1901, two parcels of land were purchased for a new range to be called the Reedy Island Range. $1,050 was spent to acquire 35 acres of marshland on the Delaware River between the mouths of the Appoquinimink River and Blackbird Creek for the front range, and a 5.62 acre parcel, located 2.8 miles to the southwest in the village of Taylors Bridge, was purchased at a cost of $525 for the rear range.
Temporary lights had to be used initially on the Reedy Island Range, as work on permanent structures for the range would not begin for almost two more years. The temporary front light consisted of a fixed white reflector-light mounted on a pole. The pole also had a white, triangular, slatted daymark to aid navigation. The initial rear light was also a fixed, white light but was displayed at an elevation of 120 feet from a pole with a black, triangular, slatted daymark.
A 46-page booklet, featuring specifications and fourteen drawings for the front range lighthouse, was distributed to potential bidders in 1904. By October of the following year, a contractor had been selected and work on the station had commenced. The lighthouse was described in the 1907 List of Lights and Fog Signals on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States as a “white, square, two-story wooden house, on columns, and having lead-colored trimmings, green blinds, a brown roof, and a veranda entirely around it; lantern on front slope of roof.” Besides the lighthouse, an oil house and boathouse were also constructed, and on October 25, 1906, the reflector light was removed from the pole and placed in the lantern room of the newly completed lighthouse.
The permanent Reedy Island Rear Range Lighthouse would be a little longer in coming. The Lighthouse Board originally intended to discontinue the Finn’s Point Range in New Jersey and relocate its tall skeletal tower, which had stood since 1876, to serve as the Reedy Island Rear Range Light. However, pressure from mariners convinced the Lighthouse Board to retain the Finn’s Point Range, even though it served a similar section of the shipping channel. The Board had to thus request $19,500 in 1906 to cover the expense of a new tower, and Congress didn’t authorize the additional sum until May 27, 1908.
In the meantime, work did begin on the station’s eight-room keeper’s dwelling, oil house and barn on May 7, 1906. The dwelling was a two-story structure with a hipped-roof and a large porch ringed by Tuscan columns. The 1910 U.S. Lighthouse Service Annual Report provides the following description of the lighthouse that was completed at the rear station that year.
The tower is a cast-iron cylindrical structure surmounted by a watch room and octagonal lantern, accessible from below by a spiral stairway enclosed in a cast-iron cylinder. It rests on nine concrete foundation piers and has concrete steps at the entrance door. The total height of the tower is about 125 feet. It is to have a fifth-order range lens lighted by a fourth-order incandescent oil-vapor lamp.
Keeper Aaron Kimmey had the opportunity to serve at both the front and rear Reedy Island lights. After having been stationed at Egg Island and Brandywine Shoal, Kimmney served from February to April of 1911 at the Reedy Island Front Range Lighthouse, before receiving his final assignment to the rear range light. Living away from the waters of the Delaware River and Bay was a change for Kimmey, but he and his family made good use of the arable land at the rear range station. The family (Aaron, Annie and their four daughters) planted a large garden and several fruit trees and soon reaped a bounteous harvest of corn, lima beans, apples and pears. This produce helped the family survive on the notoriously low keepers’ pay - $516 per year for Kimmey’s assignment.
After more than fifteen years at the Reedy Island Rear Range Lighthouse, Keeper Kimmey’s wife Annie awoke around 5:30 a.m. on January 12, 1927 to prepare breakfast. Kimmey told his wife to let him rest a while before going downstairs, and he then passed away in her arms. Ten months before Kimmey died, the family doctor had diagnosed him with “hyperstrophe” of the heart, and it was the doctor’s opinion that “going up and down long flights of steps as the lighthouse” had contributed to his death.
In 1951, the function of the front range lighthouse was replaced by an automated light on a steel tower, and by the end of that decade all the buildings at the station were gone. When the rear range light was automated, the associated buildings were sold into private hands. Although the dwelling was inhabited, it and the other buildings did not receive proper upkeep, and over time their condition slowly deteriorated. On the evening of April 6, 2002, a fire destroyed the dwelling and caused significant damage to the oil house. Today, only the station’s old wooden barn remains standing next to the still-active lighthouse.
Located in Taylor's Bridge. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.