|New Castle Range, DE|
Description: The New Castle Range Lights, named after the nearest town (New Castle, Delaware), were established to help mariners avoid Bulkhead Shoal, located in the Delaware River just north of Pea Patch Island. Before constructing the lights, the government acquired a 4.07-acre parcel along the western bank of the river from L. Taylor Dickson for $6,000 and a one-acre parcel, located a half-mile inland, from Joseph I. Taggert for $2,500.
Lieutenant Colonel William F. Raynolds, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was responsible for erecting the buildings for both the front and rear lights. The Description of the Lighthouse Sites of the Fourth Lighthouse District, printed in 1878, provides the following information on the keeper’s dwelling at the front range.
The dwelling is two stories in height, with tin roof, weather-boarded on outside and lathed and plastered inside. The first story is of brick, cement-washed on outside, and is divided into four rooms, one of which is used as a kitchen, one as cellar, containing cistern of a capacity of 2,000 gallons, the others as work-room and store-room. The second story is divided into four rooms, with porch on front and side, level with second floor. Outside steps lead from the porch to the ground, the entrance to the lantern room being from this porch.
A ten-foot-square tower with a height of thirty-eight feet was attached to the southern end of the dwelling. The first and third stories of the tower were originally used as storerooms, while the front range light was displayed from a bay window on the second story. A fancy, iron finial, standing three feet tall, capped off this rather unique lighthouse.
The front and rear lights, both of which consisted of a 24-inch range lens, a silvered reflector, and a Funck lamp, were first exhibited on November 15, 1876. The characteristic of the front range light was changed in 1894 “from fixed white, to fixed white during periods of 2 seconds, separated by eclipses of 1 second’s duration.” A cylindrical sleeve, raised and lowered by a clockwork mechanism at prescribed intervals, produced the eclipsing effect.
The land at the front and rear stations was described respectively as “a fine variety of potter’s clay” and as being of a “clayey nature.” This did not stop Keeper Alexander Jarrell from attempting to cultivate crops at the front light. As recorded in the station logbook on April 17, 1877, Jarrell “went to New Castle to see about manure, found that none could be had at any price.” The Annual Report of the Light-House Board for 1990 noted that 800 square feet of sod had been placed on the grounds of the front range station and that roughly 100 trees and shrubs had been planted. At the same time, the rear station received 76 ornamental trees and shrubs. Most of these plantings seemed to have survived as seven years later a report on the front station noted that about the grounds were “44 Norway spruces, 2 arborvitae, 16 maples and 9 cherry tress, poplars, and California privets.”
Besides his own comings and goings, Keeper Jarrell also made notes on river traffic and shipwrecks near his station as exemplified by the following entries in the station logbook.
Following the automation of the New Castle Front Range Lighthouse sometime in the 1920s or early 1930s, the station’s full-time keeper was replaced by a custodian who lived in the keeper’s dwelling. Lidie and Bill Brown occupied the dwelling during World War II, and when the Coast Guard put the property on the auction block in 1953, the Browns were the high bidders at $5,000, an amount less than what the government had paid decades before just for the land.
In the 1960s, the original tower was torn down by the Coast Guard and replaced by an automated steel tower, which displays its light from fifty-six feet above mean high water. Since the Browns purchased the property, five generations of the family have occupied the dwelling. The Brown's daughter Jeanette moved in with her husband William Cross shortly after the purchase, and in 1985, the Cross’ daughter, Jeanne Butler, along with her husband Wayne, moved into the dwelling to help care for her parents. The Butlers have completed a two-story addition to the back of the dwelling and built a deck on the front that resembles an original one. In 2007, the Butlers shared the commodious residence with their son and his family. Besides the dwelling, a historic well, privy, and brick oil house remain standing on the property.
After the New Castle Rear Range Lighthouse had been replaced by an automated beacon atop a 110-foot, skeleton tower, the combination tower and dwelling was declared excess and sold to the public. The new owner of the lighthouse turned the handsome structure into a rental property. Sometime later, the lighthouse also served as a meeting hall. Following years of neglect and a fire that reportedly damaged the building’s roof, the lighthouse was condemned. The owner hired the Goodwill Fire Company of New Castle to burn the structure to the ground in November of 1982.
Though the original elegant towers have been gone for years, the New Castle Range Lights continue to mark a clear channel for vessels transiting this area of the Delaware River.
Located off Grantham Lane, which intersects Highway 9 in New Castle. The towers are owned by the Coast Guard but surrounded by private property. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The towers are owned by the Coast Guard but surrounded by private property. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.