By Bob Trapani, Jr.
On April 1, 2002, the pages to a new and exciting chapter in Delaware Bay lighthouse history were turned when the United States Coast Guard granted a twenty-year lease of Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, Delaware, to the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation. The DRBLHF, based in Lewes, Delaware, thus has gained the distinction of becoming the first non-profit organization to be awarded a lease of a Delaware offshore lighthouse, which runs through April 1, 2022.
The U.S. Coast Guard, who has developed a fine working relationship with the DRBLHF, is very excited about working with the group whenever possible. Senior Chief Dennis Dever, Officer in Charge of Aids to Navigation Team Cape May, New Jersey, states, “The lease on Harbor of Refuge Light is a great thing in that the DRBLHF can make positive restoration progress, possibly even recreate an old active Coast Guard light station. The Coast Guard today simply could not do this on our own with such limited resources. The DRBLHF, like other organizations who truly want to preserve a lighthouse, is stepping up to the plate and making it happen.”
The DRBLHF executive board is currently working to hire a marine engineering firm to formulate a professional plan that achieves the stabilization, restoration and preservation of Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, which was built in 1926. The size and importance of the project at hand is not lost on members of the DRBLHF executive board as attested to by 1st vice-president Michael DiPaolo who notes, “We cannot shrink from this project – it is a large project – probably the single largest historic preservation project undertaken in the State of Delaware.”
The long-term goal of the DRBLHF is to open the lighthouse for educational programming and tours, which will be based on interpreting a to-be-determined era in the light’s storied history. In addition, the organization will seek to blend the history of Harbor of Refuge with southern Delaware’s maritime heritage, as well as that of the U.S. Lighthouse Service and U.S. Coast Guard. Greg Ositko, DRBLHF 2nd vice-president, reveals his passion for the project, saying, “This historic event presents the most fervent, challenging, and steadfast community project of a nature and magnitude which will have no end – only unforeseen and boundless educational opportunities for all generations to come.”
Senior Chief Dennis Dever summed up the importance of lighthouse preservation by saying, “Taking care of lighthouses is a great thing in that they are a timeless constant in the history of our country and in our local areas. As people, styles and events come and go, the lighthouse remains. A lighthouse is the first thing mariners see approaching land and the last thing they watch departing to sea. A lighthouse is always in the background tolerating its surroundings. Interest in preservation ensures the lighthouse remains stable while the world continues to evolve.”
Created: April 2002
Photo by Ann-Marie Trapani