In 1884, a light was commissioned for the east end of the
Delaware Breakwater. The light was to replace the
Cape Henlopen Beacon,
which was rapidly deteriorating and discontinued in 1884.
Work began in 1885, with a temporary light placed on
a wooden frame at the site of the new light.
In 1885, a foundation was embedded into the breakwater.
The iron tower, listed at 56 feet tall in 1914,
was built on the foundation. The tower first
displayed a fourth-order Fresnel lens
on October 2, 1885.
It included one red sector to warn vessels approaching
the Hen and Chickens Shoal.
The fog signal was established a month later. A wharf and oil
house were completed the following year.
Life at the lighthouse was difficult. The tower was cramped.
The exterior diameter measured only 22 feet at the base
and 18 feet at the watch level. In addition, the heavy
fog at the cape meant that the fog signal was constantly
blaring. From July 1, 1896 to June 30, 1897, the fog signal
operated for 400 hours. The following year, the signal
operated for 440 hours. The lighthouse record was set in 1905
when the signal was used for 645 hours.
In 1903, the light replaced the discontinued
Delaware Breakwater (West End) light as the front
range for the Delaware Breakwater. The original
Delaware Breakwater Rear Range
continued to serve as the rear range.
The light continued as the front range until 1918,
when the rear range was discontinued.
The light was finally automated on July 11, 1950.
Shoaling at Cape Henlopen gradually reduced the significance
of the light, and the
Harbor of Refuge
light better served mariners.
The light was discontinued in 1996. In 1999, the light
was transferred to the State of Delaware. In 2004,
the Delaware River and Bay Foundation, a non-profit,
volunteer organization, became caretakers of the light.
In 2005, insurance rates increased dramatically,
which caused suspension of tours to the light.
A radiothon helped raise enough money to cover
As of 2006, they offer tours of the lighthouse.
The organization is restoring the light, which
still houses its Fresnel lens.
Guiding Lights of the Delaware River and Bay, Gowdy and Ruth pp. 251-255
Lighthouse of New Jersey and Delaware, Trapani pp. 100-107
Mid-Atlantic Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones pp. 55-56
The Keeper's Log Summer 2005
Lighthouse Digest July 2006
Delaware Bay and River Lighthouse Foundation (website)