Located in the Chesapeake Bay near the entrance
to Hampton Roads
offshore from the cities of Norfolk and Hampton
On December 1, 1914, the current lighthouse was built. The workers'
temporary quarters was built on the old screwpile foundation of the
previous lighthouse. It was removed when construction was complete, but the
old screwpile foundation remained for many years after that. This
lighthouse is considered one of the most important in the Chesapeake.
It is a 55-foot tower with a red three-story keeper's quarters built
on a caisson. The lighthouse was automated in 1964 and its 10 second
flashing light still serves as an active aid to navigation. The
260-ton caisson was built in the Berkely section of Norfolk, towed
to the shoal and sunk into place. This light also has a horn. The
Coast Guard recently repainted this light, performed some structural maintenance,
and installed new windows. This is the only remaining Chesapeake Bay caisson-type
lighthouse that still has its first-level gallery roof. It is interesting to note
that this lighthouse is situated on the eastern tip of Thimble Shoal and on the
western end, closer to the shore at Fort Monroe, is a 58-foot high skeletal tower
with a flashing white light. That light serves not as a warning light but
rather as a range light for vessels exiting the harbor.
The Coast Guard has auctioned off some of Virginia's lighthouses in 2005. This lighthouse was sold at auction to Peter Jurewicz of Smithfield, Virginia for $65,000. Although it is now in private hands, the USCG will continue to maintain the light apparatus.
More images of Thimble Shoal
A lightship was near here at Willoughby Spit before being replaced by a screwpile lighthouse on "The Thimble" in 1872. In 1880, it burned down from unknown causes. Divers recovered the optics and the lighthouse was rebuilt on the same iron foundation pilings. The hexagonal house also received two fog bells. This second lighthouse was built at Lazaretto, Maryland and was intended to be placed at Bell's Rock in Virginia.
In 1891, the second lighthouse was hit by a steamer. It was hit again on April 14, 1898 by a coal barge. As if that wasn't enough, a schooner being towed by a tug rammed the lighthouse when the tow cable became detached during a storm on December 27, 1909. This time the house burned down because a stove had toppled over.
New photos courtesy of LCDR Richard Condit, USCG Group Hampton Roads
HOW TO SEE IT
If you don't have access to a boat, it can be viewed from the boardwalk of Fort Monroe in Hampton (see Old Point Comfort), or from the beach in the Willoughby Spit or West Ocean View areas of northern Norfolk.
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