By Bob Trapani, Jr.
Liston Range Rear Light’s historical impact on Delaware’s lighthouse heritage is as far-reaching as its guiding light. The towering 127-foot wrought iron structure has the distinction of being the First State’s tallest lighthouse, as well as national prominence in serving as the rear light for the longest navigational range in the United States. The light’s powerful second order Fresnel range lens continues to shine a piercing white light some 20 miles down the Delaware River that helps safely guide ships through the long stretch of water between Ship John Shoal Light in Delaware Bay and Liston Point, Delaware, along the river.
Yet despite Liston Range Rear Light’s many historical distinctions, it’s relevance for making lighthouse history in the 21st century has hardly been dimmed by the heavy hand of time. On May 3, 2004, the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation and the United States Coast Guard forged a new page in the history of Liston Range Rear Light by entering into a thirty-year historic lease agreement for the lighthouse, which is located near Port Penn, in Delaware’s New Castle County.
The historical significance of the lease agreement between the DRBLHF and the Coast Guard, and how it ties into the storied history of Liston Range Rear Light, has not been lost on BMC Michael Baroco, officer-in-charge of USCG Aids to Navigation Team Philadelphia. “Having served at the USCG aids to navigation team responsible for Liston Range Rear Light, I have always had a particular fondness for the lighthouse,” says the Coastguardsman. “This is not just a light or a structure made of wood and iron – it is a monument to the great men and women who kept these lights burning through many difficult times throughout our nation’s history.”
BMC Baroco went on to note, “I take great pride in having been able to play a role, albeit a minor one, in this historic lease process. This lighthouse has allowed me to meet people I may have never known and forge friendships that I hope to keep for a lifetime. Like I said, it’s not just a light.”
Liston Range Rear Light was constructed in 1876 and originally served as the rear light for the Port Penn Range. By 1904, changes in the Delaware River shipping channel forced the United States Lighthouse Service to decommission the Port Penn Range and establish a new range to guide ships along the most southern reaches of the river, which was called the Liston Range. The wrought iron tower was subsequently disassembled at Port Penn and reestablished three miles back from the Delaware riverbanks to serve as the rear light for the Liston Range in 1906.
Originally, Liston Range Rear Light was lit from sundown to sunrise, but after a severe ice season removed the buoys from the Delaware River in 1936, the U.S. Lighthouse Service gave the order to keep the light burning bright 24-hours a day until further notice. The order was never rescinded and 68 years later (as of 2004) the lighthouse continues to shine its white light 24-hours a day.
The historic lease for Liston Range Rear Light also holds a very special meaning for DRBLHF honorary board member Harry Spencer. Harry was born at the lighthouse in 1920 during his father’s (Harry, Sr.) tenure as the lightkeeper of the station. “I was born there, I lived there and Dad was the keeper there for fourteen years (1913- 1927), so just to just have the privilege of going back there now as a member of the DRBLHF is quite satisfying and appealing,” says Spencer. “It’s even greater satisfaction because having been a resident of that place and knowing that it is now going to be preserved, to me at my age anyway, makes the whole endeavor that much more wonderful to be a part of.”
The Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation, which also holds a historic lease with the U.S. Coast Guard on Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, will be responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the 128 year-old Liston Range Rear Light. In addition to the lighthouse, the DRBLHF will also serve as caretakers of the adjacent enameled brick oil house and the 0.4-acre plot that encompasses the light station property. The DRBLHF plans to open Liston Range Rear Light to the general public in the future for educational tours and opportunities to appreciate the historical significance of one of Delaware’s nine remaining lighthouses.
Created: May 2004
Photo by Ann-Marie Trapani