Fenwick Island Lighthouse

July 25, 2019

Fenwick Island Lighthouse, Delaware

Located on the Delaware/Maryland border, constructed in 1858, modern address is in Ocean City, Maryland.


Location: Delaware / Maryland border
Station Established: 1859
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1859
Operational? YES
Automated? YES 1940
Deactivated: 1978-1982
Foundation Materials: NATURAL/EMPLACED
Construction Materials: BRICK
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: THIRD ORDER, FRESNEL 1859

Historical Information:

Congress authorized the erection of a lighthouse on Fenwick Island, Del., in 1856. The site for the light adjoined the south boundary of Delaware on the Delaware-Maryland boundary line in the vicinity of Fishing Harbor. Immediately behind the storehouse of the light station is a stone monument or marker, apparently of granite, having the arms of William Penn carved on the north side and the arms of Lord Baltimore on the south side. This stone is the first stone erected in connection with the Mason and Dixon’s line survey. It is the only and original first stone set up in 1751.

When King Charles of England granted Penn his 29,000,000 acres in 1681 which now form the State of Pennsylvania, a controversy immediately began with Lord Baltimore, who owned the Maryland territory, as to the boundary line. As Penn acquired, also, what is now Delaware, it affected the line of that territory as well. This controversy raged through three or four generations and was not finally settled until 1768. By 1750, however, the only line the disputants were not quarreling over was the lower east-west line, so they appointed two surveyors to go the spot, determine the compass variation, and start the survey of the line, which was and is the present lower line of Delaware State. The surveyors arrived at Fenwick Island in December 1750. They drove a stake at a point 139 perches west of the "Main Ocean" at a group of four mulberry trees where the lighthouse now stands. Then they measured east to the "Verge of the Ocean" and began the line there. They could put no permanent mark at the water’s edge, but they measured some 6 miles west and then quit for the weather was bad, their cabin had burned up, and the exposure was great.

In April 1751, all hands again met at Fenwick Island. The commissioners were shown the work of the previous December and approved it and on April 26, 1751, a stone was set where the stake had been, having the arms of Lord Baltimore on the south side and of Penn on the north. This is the stone that stands there today.

Other stones were erected at 5-mile intervals and the west line of the State of Delaware was set up. Soon after this Lord Baltimore died and his death delayed things. Nothing was done for about 10 years, when under a new agreement in 1760, between the then generations of Penns and Baltimores, surveys were started again on this north line, the object being to lay it out so as to hit the 12-mile circle, 81 miles above, determined upon as the northern boundary of Delaware, with New Castle as its center. The surveyors made such a poor job of it, despite several efforts, after 3 years, that Penn and Baltimore in England hired Mason and Dixon, two engineers of note, to go over to America, take charge and do the job. They arrived in 1763, accepted the lower or east and west line across the peninsula as correct, reran the north line and ran the line from the northeast corner of Maryland west, for about 223 miles. This is the generally understood Mason and Dixon’s line. They also ran the north and south line which is the western boundary of Delaware. Five years were occupied in this and not until 1768 was the last stone set, which ended the controversy of nearly a century.

By 1857 the site for the lighthouse had been selected and marked and the tower was completed early in 1859, being first lit on August 1, 1859. The total cost was $23,748.96. In 1932 a strip of land 60 feet wide, extending east and west across the site, was deeded to the State of Delaware for roadway purposes and in 1940 about three-fourths of the site was sold including the entire northern wooded half and 2.71 acres of the southern half.

The white lighthouse tower now stands 0.3 mile inshore on the coast, the tower being 83 feet above water and the top of the lantern 87 feet above ground. A 25,000-candlepower light flashes white every 3 seconds and is visible 15 miles at sea.