Cape Henry Lighthouse

Located at Fort Story in the City of Virginia Beach

[Cape Henry]


Construction on this tower began in 1879 and was completed in 1881. It was was built to replace the older light only 357 feet away. It is a 164-foot octagonal tower made up of cast iron plated inner and outer walls, with a masonry lining, making it the tallest such lighthouse in the U.S. It has a first-order Fresnel lens and is painted in black and white alternating vertical stripes. Originally lit by oil lamps and reflectors, but in the early 1880's the Fresnel was installed. In 1923 the lantern was converted to electricity. The 1,000 watt light was automated in 1984 and has an intensity of 80,000 candlepower. Overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, its 20 second flashing light can be seen for only 15 miles out to sea because of the bright city lights. During the early part of World War II, the top of this lighthouse was used as a battery commander's station for Battery Walke. This battery consisted of two massive 16-inch howitzers operated by the Coast Artillery Corps. Several concrete batteries of various sizes can be found scattered around the base. The gallery railing of the lighthouse was removed, and galvanized steel walls were put up enclosing the entire gallery level (see chart).

More photos of Cape Henry.

It is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and continues to be an active aid to navigation. It is not open to the public, except on special occassions, but it can be viewed from the street and from the original lighthouse. The tower features a VHF antenna, installed in 1929, which is used as a radio beacon for the USCG. Also at the station is a harbor control tower for the Virginia Pilots Association and the Association of Maryland Pilots. These pilots navigate the big ships through the channels of the Chesapeake Bay, Hampton Roads, and Baltimore Harbor. It is interesting to note that the harbor tower is built over the former fog horn testing laboratory (1935). Adjacent is the 1881 fog horn building.

Learn more about Fort Story.

[Cape Henry]

Go to the Old Cape Henry page - click on the red sign below.

1990 USGS Satellite image of the Cape Henry Lighthouses
courtesy of Microsoft TerraServer


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