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Cape Henlopen, DE  Lighthouse destroyed.   

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Cape Henlopen Lighthouse

1817 - Situated at the entrance of the Delaware Bay. The lantern is 100 feet above the sea, and contains a fixed light.

1838 – Cape-Henlopen main light-tower.—Burns thirteen lamps with spherical reflectors. The foundations and walls of this tower in good order: wood-work out of repair; many panes of glass in the lantern broken, and replaced by wood and sheets of copper. Keeper's dwelling requires extensive repairs—leaks throughout.

1850 – Cape Henlopen light-house. - 18 lamps; William Elligood, keeper; supplied May 20, 1850.
This light-house, with the exception of painting the lantern, is in good order. Dwelling is also good. Oil-butts are very much neglected. The high sand hill to the north of the house, the base of which is but a few steps off, will soon be up to the house; and it will be but a few years before the house will be buried in sand, and no human being can hardly prevent it. Light-house and lighting apparatus are kept clean, and are now in first rate order, having put on a full set of burners. Left May 11, 1849 782 gallons. Found on hand 200 gallons. 582 gallons consumed in 374 days is equal to 566 gallons per year, or 31 8/15 gallons per lamp.
Delivered 399 gallons spring oil, 225 gallons winter oil, on hand 180 gallons, for a total of 804. 100 tube-glasses, 8 gross wicks; 45 yards cloth; 2 buff skins; 1 pair scissors; 1 bot tripoli; 1 box soap; 17 burners, complete; 1 oil-butt; 2 butt-stands; 1 hand-lamp; 2 files.
Common burners, 22 -inch reflectors; lantern glass, 16 1/2 by 24; spare lamp, in good order oil-butts will be wanted next year; all iron burners.

1851 – Cape Henlopen light-house
This is one of the best reflector fired lights on the coast, although inferior to the third order lens on Brandywine shoal, in the proportion of 1 to 6. This light has an elevation of one hundred and eighty feet, and only requires a first order lens apparatus to make it equal to the requirements of commerce and navigation.
The large amount of trade from Philadelphia warrants the proposed expenditure, and humanity would seem to dictate it as consistent with true policy and philanthropy.

1851 – Cape Henlopen Light June 25, 1851
Sea-coast light. Stone tower, built in 1764; laid in courses and filled in with rubble-stone. Well built; stone rather small. Walls at lower floor, six feet, and at lantern four feet thick. Stairs of wood, clean and in good order.
William Elligood, principal and only keeper; took charge May 16,1849. Farmer by vocation. Eighteen 21-inch parabolic reflectors, in good order. Lamps and burners not good; though better than usual. Numerous spots on reflectors without silver. (Fitted up in 1840, at the same time that the English reflectors were put in the Boston light.) No paint for two years, (since present keeper took charge.) Dome and sashes of lantern black inside for want of paint. Glass 16 x 24. Inspected June, 1850, by collector, and not since. Ventilation bad, and no proper means for regulation of stove under the frame. Astragals vertical. Lantern eleven feet in diameter. Lights up at sunset, and puts out at sunrise. Lights with care, and seems to understand bis duties. Lantern leaks and keeps the upper part of tower damp. Tower whitewashed once in two years. Has spare glass for lantern—no means of replacing glass at night. Keeper not satisfactorily furnished with supplies; particularly paint, glass, putty, &c. Oil cellar under tower not used. Good temperature; oil gets a little thick, but never congeals. Howland left two new tanks this year; empty; not required; three old ones condemned. Summer oil stood the test of the oliometer within 3°. Winter oil worse, being 7° less than standard. Oil last year very bad. Burned much less last year than usual.
June 18, Captain Howland delivered, winter oil 204 gallons.
do. do. do. summer oil 478"
For beacon, ten lights, 14-inch, winter oil 100"
do. do. do. summer oil 206"
Has no rule for delivery of oil; delivers what he pleases, He says (Captain H.) it is so much, and he has to receipt for any quantity he may say he delivers. Writes his own receipts and requires the keepers to sign them.
Last year, first quarter. 152 gals, winter.
"second" 15" " 121 summer.
"third" 00" " 138"
"fourth" 52 '" " 103"
219 ; 362 581 gals, total.
Makes regular returns to the collector. Howland repairs what is necessary with his tinker. When bad oil is on hand, is obliged to use it. Calls often on the collector for tube-glasses, &c, &c
Keeper has charge of main light and beacon; $400 salary for main light, and $250 for beacon light. Trims at midnight. No regular watch kept. No instructions framed and hung up. Impossible for one man to attend to these duties alone. Howland comes once a year with supplies. Keeper makes repairs to lamps, &c.; keeps an account of oil and supplies expended, including consumption of house. Two conductors: one without a point, and ought to be taken down. Wall cracked to northwest. No curtains in lantern. Dwelling leaks about the eaves and windows. Foundation of house undermining, and requires looking after at once. Dwelling built in 1820. Paving around tower out of order, and requires to be looked after, to prevent rapid deterioration, and, possibly, danger to the building. Tower 81 feet from base, 164 feet above tides; built of ashlar granite, or gneiss; inside rubble masonry. Lightning-rods of iron. Mortar good. Iron band around top of tower; iron very much corroded. Flat brick arch to support the lantern. Soapstone floor. Arch leaks and appears to be yielding; requires immediate attention. Keeper's house leaks a little on east side, and in eaves; foundation undermined by rats on west side; walls cracking in consequence; foundation built of pretty good masonry, originally. Fences settled and in a state of dilapidation. Sand advancing towards tower and house. Pine tops, generally laid annually 200 to 300 loads, at a cost of fifty cents per load, now decayed. Old building near tower ought to be removed; in bad condition, and adds to the movement of the sand by creating eddy currents of air. Measures ought to be taken to regulate the movement of the sand.

1853 – The board would respectfully invite the attention of Congress to the reports of Major Bache, corps of topographical engineers, and of the Board of Trade of Philadelphia, on the subject of providing the necessary additional aids to navigation in Delaware bay and river, and would state, that although it would appear there can be but little doubt as to the necessity for the aids suggested in these reports, yet, on account of the large appropriations which would be required to provide them, the board is not prepared to recommend all of them at this time, but would respectfully defer to Congress the decision as to which of these objects are of the most urgent necessity.
It is proper to add, in this connexion, that the best illuminating apparatus that could be procured in this country has been placed, during the last summer, in the light houses at Capes May and Henlopen. These are a great improvement over the old lights, and will answer a very good purpose until Congress may deem fit to make appropriations for the more approved apparatus with which it is designed ultimately to furnish these two important points.

1853 – In addition to the new illuminating apparatus recently constructed, and placed in the seacoast lights at Capes Henlopen and May, orders have been given for the construction of new illuminating apparatus for the important seacoast light at Fire island; at Execution Rocks; Princess bay and Cumberland Head, New York; and at Juniper island, Vermont.

1853 - Extracts from a communication of the Philadelphia Board of Trade to the Collector of Customs at Philadelphia. PHILADELPHIA, October 15, 1853.
SIR: The committee of the Board of Trade on the lights, buoys, harbors, and the navigation of the Delaware, to whom your letter was referred, beg leave to state that the necessity existing for the erection of additional lights and buoys, in order to improve the navigation of the Delaware, has been for some time past under their consideration, and from a careful examination of the subject, and consultation with some of our most experienced pilots and navigators, the committee earnestly recommend as follows:
11th. Cape Henlopen light house to be renovated and fitted with a lens apparatus of first order, with a revolving or flashing light, instead of a fixed light, as at present, so that it cannot be mistaken for the fixed light on Five-fathom bank, which has been frequently the case, thereby causing the loss of many ships, viz: Tuscarora, Swatard, Walter, &c. The light on Cape May, now a revolving light, to be changed to a fixed light.
The committee also call the attention of the Light house board to the fact that the Delaware river and bay are among the most intricate and difficult of navigation of any of the rivers and bays of the United States; and as the distance from the ocean is so great, ocean steamers are compelled to navigate the bay and river at night, in order to compete in time with the lines of other ports; therefore the want of a sufficiency of lights and buoys is much felt and complained of.
Philadelphia already has six lines of ocean steamers, all of which are compelled to navigate the bay and river at night; and although the greatest care and caution are always used, yet running on shore is of frequent occurrence.
The number of vessels navigating the Delaware is very great. Independently of those engaged in the foreign and general coasting trade, the statistics of the government show that the tonnage of the boat trade alone exceeds that of the whole foreign commerce of New York. These facts will make apparent to the Light-house board the benefit which will be conferred on the commerce of the port of Philadelphia by carrying out the suggestions herein made, as it will enable vessels to pass the dangerous points in the bay and river by night as well as by day, and thus materially diminish the time now occupied in their navigation
Under the old light-house system of the government, nothing could be obtained toward aiding the navigation of the Delaware. On the establishing of the Light-house board, the Board of Trade, being well aware from the frequent representations made to their body of the defects and wants of the mercantile community, appointed some months since a committee to examine into the matter.
The committee, therefore, after having carefully considered the subject, earnestly recommend that the lights and buoys mentioned should be placed in the Delaware, believing them to be of present necessity.
Collector of the port of Philadelphia.

1853 – OFFICE OF FOURTH AND FIFTH LIGHT HOUSE DISTRICTS, (exclusive of Albemarle and Pamlico sounds,) Philadelphia, November 1, 1853.
SIRS: I beg leave to suggest, at the request of the board, communicated in the circular of the 1st of September, the following described aids to the navigation of Delaware bay.
1. To substitute a lenticular fixed light of the first order, for the catoptric fixed apparatus now forming the main light at Cape Henlopen.
Cape Henlopen, as the deep water cape of one of the principal estuaries of the line of the Atlantic coast, calls for a first-class seacoast light. The numerous accidents that have occurred in consequence of the inferiority of the lighting apparatus, from confounding a light which, from position, should be one of the principal seacoast lights for the light-ship off Five Fathom bank, would be wholly avoided by the change suggested. The elevation of the tower (170 feet) above the level of the sea is favorable for such an application as that proposed. The light of the present catoptric apparatus, consisting of eighteen 21-inch reflectors, it is evident, from the statement of the special Light-house board, (see printed report, pp. 136, 191,) that in useful effect it was to the third order (U. S.) of the Brandywine light, as but one to six cannot penetrate as far as the visible horizon of such an elevation. The cost of carrying out the change would be as follows:
For a lenticular apparatus, first order, fixed - - $8,500
For a watch room and lantern .... 4,900
For preparing the tower and receiving the above - - 1,600
Amount 15,000
As it is necessary to illuminate only three-fourths of the horizon at Cape Henlopen, I would respectfully recommend a fountain lamp, and that the land quadrant be occupied by holophotal panels, to turn back the light for distribution in the remaining three-fourths of the arc. I may also remark, that as the present coping course of the tower is but four inches thick, a new one, of proper dimensions, may be required in fitting on the new lantern. In that case, the amount set down against the last head will be found none too large.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HARTMAN BACHE, Major Topographical Engineers, Brevet Major in charge.
Brevet Capt. EDMOND L. F. HARDCASTLE, U. S. A.,
Secretaries Light-house Board, Washington, D. C.

1855 – Refitting Cape Henlopen light-house with a first-order illuminating apparatus.—Other and more pressing duties prevented me from taking any steps in reference to this change, beyond those of furnishing designs for the remodelling the top of the tower to receive the lantern and lighting-apparatus of the order required.

1855 – Light-house at Cape Henlopen.—Congress having made an appropriation for "refitting this light with an improved illuminating apparatus," I was called upon by the board to submit a design and estimate for the same. So soon as the structure could be inspected a report was made, which being approved, the work of preparing the materials has been actively prosecuted, and it is hoped that before the winter sets in, the Fresnel apparatus, already arrived, will be exhibited from the tower.

1856 -The Cape Henlopen light has been fitted with a first-order lens apparatus, and the fog-bells authorized for the lights on the Delaware have been procured and placed.

1862 – At Cape Henlopen light-house it has been found necessary to take measures for building a new dwelling for the keeper, the old one at that place being threatened with speedy destruction by the steady progress in that direction of a remarkable sand hill, which has been moving inflexibly in a certain course at a constant rate of speed for many years, presenting in its existence and movement a most singular natural phenomenon. The new dwelling is in course of preparation.

1863 – At Cape Henlopen a new dwelling for the keepers has been completed in a position calculated to avoid the course of the large moving sand hill at that place.

1866 – The iron stairway authorized by act of Congress for the light-house at Cape Henlopen has been constructed.

1867 – Cape Henlopen.—The work of building the brick cylinder in the tower and putting in the iron stairway, iron window frames, brass sash, and iron door frame and door, was completed in November last.

1868 – Cape Henlopen.—The only work done at this station has been in placing brushwood to prevent the sand around the buildings from being blown away. Examinations conducted by the light-house engineer of the district, for a series of years, show that the dune at this station, called the "big sand-hill," situated at the north of the tower, and formed by drifting sand, had moved to the southward at the rate of 11 feet a year. The height of this hill in 1863 was 73 feet, since which it has lowered and widened at the base. At the period just referred to the old keeper's dwelling had to be abandoned, the sand having banked up to the second-story windows. Fears were entertained that a similar drift would obstruct the tower. So far, however, an effectual remedy has been found in the application of brushwood to exposed places. The keeper's dwelling requires painting inside and out; the pumps in the water cisterns need some repairs.

1869 – Cape Henlopen, Delaware.—The keeper's house has been painted inside, and small repairs have been made to the cistern pumps. The large sand-hills which are about the tower and dwellings frequently change in shape and elevation, but no serious inconvenience has resulted to the station so far.

1872 – Cape Henlopen, sea-coast of Delaware, entrance to Delaware Bay.— Trouble has been anticipated at this station by the encroachment of the "Big Sand Hills" near it. There are changes constantly going on, but no serious inconvenience has yet resulted from them, nor is it thought there will be as long as the space between the tower and dwelling is kept open by removing the sand as fast as it accumulates.

1874 – Cape Henlopen light-station, Delaware.—The tower needs repointing, the dwelling should be painted outside and in, the pavement around the dwelling should be repaired, and call-bells or speaking-tubes, for calling relief, should be provided. Estimated cost of repairs, $500.

1875 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—This tower has been repainted, new pumps for the cistern supplied, and workmen are now engaged in making repairs to the keeper's dwelling, and tower. The lantern is of the old style, and obscures a large quantity of light. It is the only one of this kind in the district. The light being a very important one, a lantern of the most modern construction should be supplied. An appropriation of $8,000 is asked for that purpose.

1876 – Cape Henlopen, sea-coast of Delaware.—The lantern at this station is of the old diagonal pattern. To render the light as effectual as other lights of its class, a new and improved lantern should be provided, as recommended last year, which will require an appropriation of $8,000.

1879 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—Some slight repairs are necessary, which will be made during the present season.

1880 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—The front porch and steps and the rear steps of the keeper's dwelling were repaired, a new water-closet built, and the structure painted inside and outside. The tower was whitewashed on the outside.

1883 – Cape Henlopen, southwestern side of entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—The boundaries of the site were marked with stone monuments, and various minor repairs were made.

1885 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware. Front light discontinued October 1, 1884.

1885 – Cape Henlopen, Delaware.—A red cut covering 45° of arc was introduced into this light October 1, 1884.

1885 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—A red panel placed in the lantern was first exhibited on October 1,1884, and various repairs were made to the buildings.

1888 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—The metal work for the proposed alterations to the lantern was received and arrangements were made for prosecuting the work without disturbing the light. Upon attempting, however, to remove the lantern unforeseen difficulties were encountered and it was found necessary to adopt another method and to postpone operations to a more suitable season. It is proposed, in addition to changing the lantern, to cover the present gallery with an iron floor so as to prevent leakage, and contract was made for the necessary metal work. A new railing was placed around the lantern.

1895 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—The old porches of the keepers' house were torn down and new ones built. An elevated walk was also built from the tower to the dwelling. Various minor repairs were made.

1897 – Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, Delaware.—The water tank, etc., covered by drifting sand, were dug out and moved. A rough detached oil shed was built for use until a fireproof building can be provided. The high sand dune surrounding this station is steadily blowing away. Extensive repairs were made.

1899 – Cape Henlopen, Delaware Bay, Delaware.—A light horizontal staff was placed on the watch-room balcony of the tower, a telephone installed, and a set of signal-code flags, etc., furnished. Various repairs were made.

1905 – Cape Henlopen, seacoast of Delaware.—Several tons of brush were placed about the tower and the oil house to prevent the oil house foundations and the brick walks from being undermined by the drifting away of the sand. Various repairs were made.

1915 – Timber groynes and bulkhead for shore protection. $3,816,

1919 – Bulkhead erected and groynes repaired. $5,483.

1919 – Keeper Harry H. Palmer awarded lighthouse efficiency flag for 1919.

1920 – Brush placed in windrows on the sloped and in valleys of the sand dune around the tower foundation. $1,924.31

1921 – Keeper Harry H. Palmer awarded efficiency flag for 1921.

1922 – Keeper Harry H. Palmer awarded efficiency flag for 1922.

1923 – Harry H. Palmer, keeper, John C. Gray, first assistant, and Henry F. G. Bryant, second assistant, rescued a four-mule team which was sinking rapidly in the quicksand in the vicinity of the light station. Happened on March 26, 1923.

1923 - Keeper Harry H. Palmer awarded efficiency flag for 1923.

1926 – The old lighthouse tower at Cape Henlopen, entrance to Delaware Bay, fell into the sea on the afternoon of April 13. Anticipating such an end to this ancient structure, the light was changed on October 1, 1924, to an automatic light at a safer location about 700 feet farther inshore, where it has since been exhibited.
The old tower was built in the years 1765 to 1767 and stood on a shallow foundation on top of a sand dune at a considerable distance from the sea. In recent years the sea has seriously encroached on the shore line for a distance of some miles along the beach in the vicinity. Beginning in 1914 protective works were built by the Lighthouse Service, but because of the general erosion of the neighboring coast line these could not be made effective except at unduly great cost.
The historical associations of this old light made it desirable to preserve the tower, and the Department of Commerce cooperated with the State of Delaware in turning over the structure to the Henlopen Lighthouse Preservation Commission, appointed by the governor. This was done in December 1924, and after careful engineering examinations the commission reported to the governor that, “in their judgement, the lighthouse was beyond saving at an economic cost.” The new automatic light has functioned satisfactorily at a considerable saving in cost and, together with other improvements in lights and fog signals in the vicinity, has met all the requirements of navigation and given improved service.

1927 – The old light tower at Cape Henlopen, Del., was undermined by the sea on April 13, 1926. This tower was about 160 years old and the second oldest light tower in this country. On account of expense of protection add diminished importance it had been replaced by an automatic light in 1924.

1927 – Sixty-seven-foot-tall Skeletal tower that displayed automated light on Cape Henlopen was dismantled and moved to the mouth of Mispillion River.

2004 – A replica of Cape Henlopen Lighthouse was built in a round-about in Rehoboth Beach.


  • Head: Abraham Hargis (at least 1784 – 1813), John Ware (1813 – 1827), Kendal Batson (1827 – 1838), H.F. McCraken (1838 – 1839), Asa Clifton (1839), Richard Beebe (1841 – 1845), George Tunnell (1845 – 1849), William Ellegood (1849 – 1853), Cornelius R. Wiltbank (1853 – 1861), J.T. Burris (1861 – 1869), Dagworthy D. Joseph (1869 – 1910), Charles E. Marshall (1910 – 1919), Harry H. Palmer (1919 – at least 1923), John C. Gray (1924).
  • First Assistant: John C. Wiltbank (1855 – 1858), G. B. Wiltbank (1858 – 1861), Seth Messick (1861 – 1862), Wrexham W. Clifton (1862 – 1864), David D. Murray (1864 – 1865), John Joseph (1865 – 1869), Henry D. Joseph (1869 – 1873), William E. Spicer (1873 – 1874), Samuel M. Vaughan (1874 – at least 1875), William S. Wolfe (1877 – 1879), John W. Rust (1879 – 1881), Theodore H. Burton (1881 – 1885), George R. Walls (1885 – 1893), William J. Salmons (1893 – 1896), Thomas Hastings (1896 – 1903), Charles E. Marshall (1903 – 1910), Harry H. Palmer (1910 – at least 1917), Joseph M. Daisey (at least 1919), John C. Gray (1920 – 1924).
  • Second Assistant: Charles C. Wiltbank (1856 – 1861), William Cottingham (1861 – 1869), Lemuel R. Walls (1869 – 1871), Wrixham W. White (1871 – 1872), Theodore H. Burton (1872), Samuel M. Vaughan (1872 – 1874), William S. Wolfe (1874 – 1877), John W. Rust (1877 – 1879), William Coward (1879 – 1881), George R. Walls (1881 – 1885), Charles E. Marshall (1885 – 1892), William J. Salmons (1892 – 1893), Thomas Hastings (1893 – 1896), Frank M. Saulsbury (1896 – 1897), Robert J. Carter (1897 – 1899), William J. Salmons (1899 – 1908), Charles R. Manlove (1908 – 1911), Edward W. Long (1911), Joseph M. Daisey (1911 – at least 1917), John C. Gray (1919 – 1920), Joseph M. Daisy (1920), Charles C. West (1920 - ), Henry F.G. Bryant (at least 1921 – at least 1923).

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