Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse

Aug. 27, 2019

Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, Delaware Breakwater, Sussex County, Delaware


Location: Lewes Harbor / Delaware Bay entrance 
Station Established: 1896 
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1926 
Operational? YES 
Automated? YES 1973 
Deactivated: N/A 
Construction Materials: CAST IRON 
Tower Shape: CONICAL 
Relationship to Other Structure: INTEGRAL 
Status: Standing and operational

Historical Information:

  • The breakwater was originally built to provide a safe harbor for ships during stormy weather. The construction was authorized in 1825 and was completed in 1869. A second breakwater was needed to accommodate larger ships that were being built. This second structure was completed in 1901. In 1902 two temporary beacons were placed on either end of the breakwater to illuminate it. Both lights were destroyed in a storm the following year and had to be replaced. 
  • A permanent structure was begun in 1906. This 52 foot tower was completed in 1908. It was three story, white hexagonal building made of wood. Original plans had called for brick but somewhere in the final stages this was switched to wood.
  • The initial light contained a fourth order Fresnel lens with a flashing white light with a 10 second interval. The station also had a fog siren. 
  • Storms frequently assault this location and in 1918 the lighthouse was moved two inches off its foundation in a heavy storm. This happened again in 1920 when it was moved another two inches in yet another storm.
  • In 1925 this light was considered uninhabitable and was dismantled. 
  • In 1926 the current tower was completed. It is a cast iron 76 foot tall white conical tower with a black lantern room. A fourth order lens was installed with a white light flashing every 10 seconds. 
  • In 1986 the tower was struck by a passing ship.
  • In 1945 the Fresnel lens was replaced by and Aero beacon. This was replaced in 1997 when a solar powered Vega lens was installed. The characteristic was changed to a white light flashing every five seconds. A fog signal was also installed. 
  • In 1973 the light was automated.
  • In 1999 the Coast Guard performed restoration to the exterior of the light. The Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation began preservation efforts at the light. 
  • In 2000 the dock was replaced to provide safer access. It has since been rebuilt or repaired several times due damage from frequent storms. 
  • In April 2002 the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation signed a lease to manage the lighthouse. They received ownership in 2004 under the National Lighthouse Preservation Act. 
  • Currently the breakwater itself may be in need of repair. The lighthouse is open to the public for scheduled tours coordinated by the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation.

Researched and written by Anne Puppa, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.