Historic Marker is Dedicated at Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

Delaware Breakwater East End Light
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Delaware Breakwater East End
Lighthouse, built in 1885

Though the sullen skies over Lewes Harbor were threatening to burst on the morning of October 1, 2006, local dignitaries and lighthouse preservations were undeterred as they journeyed offshore to Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse where they would dedicate a state historic marker at the site.

As the motor launch arrived at the lighthouse, the rains began to fall, creating an atmosphere that conjured up memories of a bygone era when the 1885 Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse was a vital friend to mariners seeking safety from stormy seas and wind in Delaware Breakwater harbor.

Scampering off the boat and up into the dry confines of the 56-foot cast-iron sentinel, the boarding party refused to let the rain, which was riding the shoulders of a northwest wind, douse their excitement as they prepared to forge the newest chapter in the storied history of the rugged beacon.

Unveiling the historic marker
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Ready to unveil the historic marker
(L to R) Lewes Mayor James Ford,
Delaware Senator Gary Simpson, Delaware
Representative Joe Booth, DRBA executive
director James Johnson, Russ McCabe of
Delaware Public Archives and
DRBLHF president Judith Roales

The Delaware River & Bay Authority and the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation, partners in the effort to preserve the East End Light, along with Delaware Public Archives and local dignitaries, unveiled the handsome marker in a short ceremony that took place on the first level of the lighthouse. Judith Roales, president of the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation, noted that the dedication was taking place one day short of the light’s 121st anniversary, which was first lit on October 2, 1885.

Russ McCabe of Delaware Public Archives conveyed his appreciation to the Delaware Legislature for their ongoing commitment to publicly recognize the value of the First State’s historic sites through the historical marker program. McCabe also thanked State Senator Gary Simpson and State Representative Joseph Booth, who were both in attendance at the ceremony, for obtaining the funding for the new historic marker at Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse.

As everyone gathered in the base of the lighthouse to celebrate a moment where the beacon’s past bridged the annals of time to touch the present, the memories of great storms, heroics, tragedy and the Lewes community’s fond admiration for the light’s benevolent service seemed to come together once more.

James Johnson & William Lowe
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) Executive director James Johnson
and Commissioner William Lowe, III
represented the DRBA, which leases
the lighthouse from the State of
Delaware and is partnering with
the DRBLHF on its preservation

There was a time when the Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse shone a brilliant fourth order white light varied by the foreboding warning of its red sectors to safeguard mariners from the wrath of the Atlantic Ocean, but the indomitable sentinel didn’t stop with just a visual warning. Even when dense fog or blinding snowstorms seemed to “snuff out” the beacon’s bastion of beams, Delaware Breakwater East End Light would spring into action with its raucous-sounding Daboll fog trumpet that would bellow an audible warning to mariners groping through the murky mantle seeking safe refuge.

Given its many maritime ties to the past, the Delaware Breakwater East Light’s historic marker represents more than simply a summary of its functional history as an aid to navigation. Instead, the bronze marker is a testament to the beacon’s connections to all things maritime that have helped make the past, present and future of the City of Lewes, and that of the state of Delaware, so special and bright.

Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse boasts of a connection to not only the United States Lighthouse Service and United States Coast Guard, but also to the venerable Pilots’ Association of the Bay and River Delaware, which occupied the lighthouse from 1963 into the 1970s during times when the Pilot boat Philadelphia was in dry dock.

The East End Light is also directly connected to three Delaware lighthouses that once stood in Lewes Harbor area. It took over the duties of the decommissioned Cape Henlopen Beacon Light in 1885, and later assumed the duties as the range front light for the Delaware Breakwater Range in 1903 from the Delaware Breakwater West End Lighthouse. After working in tandem with the Delaware Breakwater Range Rear Light for fifteen years, it returned to its normal lighthouse duties in 1918.

DRBLHF Board Members
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

DRBLHF board members
(L to R) Walter Palmer, Herb Von
Goerres, Judith Roales and Ruth Africa

The Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse is also forever connected to two of the fiercest storms that have ever struck the Delaware capes. Prior to the outer National Harbor of Refuge Breakwater being built from 1897 to 1901, the Delaware Breakwater was the only safe refuge for ships transiting between Sandy Hook, New Jersey and Cape Charles, Virginia.

During both the dreadful blizzard of March 12, 1888, and eighteen months later, the horrific storm of September 1889, the Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse stood sentinel above terrible seas in an effort to protect mariners from the fury of King Neptune. On each occasion the beacon’s keepers worked diligently to keep a good light burning and the station’s fog signal sounding throughout the duration of the two deadly tempests, which ultimately claimed the lives of dozens of sailors at Delaware Breakwater.

In May 2006 the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation opened the offshore lighthouse up to the general public for educational tours. The addition of the historic marker at the lighthouse will be something new for visitors to admire in 2007 and at the same time, serve as a sparkling reminder that Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse is more than a guiding light, but also a unique portal to the rich maritime heritage that exudes from the sandy beaches of Cape Henlopen and history-laden streets of Lewes, Delaware.

To learn more about the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation and the Delaware River & Bay Authority, visit www.delawarebaylights.org and www.drba.net

Lewes Mayor James Ford
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Lewes Mayor James Ford atop
the lighthouse enjoying the
seascape view of Delaware
Breakwater harbor

 
Herb Von Goerres & Russ McCabe
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) DRBLHF board member Herb
Von Goerres and Russ McCabe of
Delaware Public Archives refuse to
let the rain dampen the historic
occasion at Delaware Breakwater
East End Lighthouse

Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Delaware Breakwater East End
Lighthouse stands silent sentinel
off Cape Henlopen

 
Rep. Joe Booth
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Representative Joe Booth
stands next to the beacon's
500mm classical lens

Danny & William Lowe
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) Danny Lowe stands atop the
lighthouse with his father William
Lowe, III, DRBA Commissioner and
Pilot for the Pilots Association
for the Bay and River Delaware