Old Cape Henry Lighthouse

Located at Fort Story in the City of Virginia Beach

[Old Henry]


This lighthouse was the first authorized by the First U.S. Congress. It is the third oldest lighthouse still standing in the U.S. and is the oldest on the Chesapeake Bay. It is very similar to the former Cape Henlopen Lighthouse (1767) in Delaware. Plans for construction on this tower started in 1774 and was delayed several times due to lack of funds and war. In 1789, federal and state government officials began final preparation for the establishment of a lighthouse at Cape Henry. It finally began construction in 1791 and was completed in 1792. It is a 90-foot octagonal sandstone tower and is not painted. In 1857 a first-order Fresnel lens was added and a brick lining was built inside the tower for reinforcement. Confederate raiders destroyed the lens, but it was replaced in 1863. In 1870 the tower began to crack and a replacement was built. It was finally decommissioned in 1881, and the new lighthouse was built only 357 feet to the southeast. It was thought that the old tower would collapse but it is still standing today. The only concern now is that the sandstone blocks are showing signs of erosion from blowing sand. The military built a small bunker under the hill on which the lighthouse stands. You can see the entrance to the bunker on the back side facing away from the beach. In 1928 the Army used the lighthouse as an observation post.

More photos of Old Cape Henry.

Fort Story is an active Army base but the public is allowed to tour the lighthouse for $2 per person. It was acquired by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) in 1930, and is open year round except for Thanksgiving Day and from the 5th of December until the 5th of January. The hours of operation are 10am until 4pm daily from November 1 to March 14 and 10am until 5pm daily from 15 March to 31 October. However, the gift shop is open during December on weekends only. The closing in December is because of the decoration by the Army of the lighthouse to resemble a Christmas tree - too many wires, lights, etc. to allow anyone up on the dune and into the lighthouse. Old Cape Henry Lighthouse is a National Historic Landmark and serves as the official symbol for the City of Virginia Beach.

Learn more about Fort Story.

Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Visitor Center: (757) 422-9421
APVA: (804) 648-1889

Nearby is Cape Henry Memorial marking the location of the first landing of the settlers who eventually founded Jamestown. This small park also commemorates the Revolutionary War's Battle of the Capes - where our French allies prevented British ships from sailing to Yorktown to give reinforcements. Without more troops the British were forced to surrender to General Washington and thus end the war. From the observation deck at night you can see the flashing lights of the Cape Charles and Chesapeake lighthouses.

First Landing Cross


Alternate Directions:

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


See also: Cape Henry

return to port continue tour