Assateague Lighthouse, Chincoteague Virginia

Date added: June 20, 2023 Categories: Virginia Lighthouse

Congress appropriated funds in 1831 for the erection of a lighthouse in the area of Chincoteague Island. The present site was then chosen, and a structure was completed and lit by January 1833. The tower was soon found to be too low and the light too weak to effectively warn ships of the dangerous shoals. As a result, Congress appropriated money for the replacement of the lighthouse in 1859. Construction began the following year, but work ceased with the coming of the War Between the States. Work was resumed after the war, the interior stair and light mechanism being imported from France, and the new structure was lighted on October 1, 1867.

The lighthouse continues to be maintained as a nautical aid, and the original lamp was replaced by an automatic lantern in 1965. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration uses the lighthouse and associated buildings in conjunction with their aeronautical activities on nearby Wallops Islands.

Assateague Lighthouse is a handsome example of mid-nineteenth-century lighthouse construction, and it is the only one of that period surviving in Virginia.

Building Description

The Assateague Lighthouse rises from a marshy peninsula at the south end of Assateague Island. Its round brick tower supports a metal and glass cupola that encases the nautical warning light. The height from ground level to light is 129 feet. The exterior surface of the brickwork is running bond and the interior is all header bond. The thick brick walls, vertical inside and tapering on the exterior, are pierced by rectangular windows. Arched openings behind the windows allow sunlight to penetrate to the stair. The circular cast iron stair winds upward around a central post which bears its factory identification plate: "Barbier and Fenestre, Paris, 1866".

Entrance to the lighthouse is through a small brick advance building that, like the lighthouse, is seated on a stone foundation. Another small brick building, the oil house, stands to the east. The multi-sided cupola and service balcony atop the tower appear to be original, while the nineteenth-century lamp has been replaced with a new automatic system. The old lamp, of prisms and polished metal and made by the same company as the stair, has been retained and is on display at the site. Originally, fuel for the revolving light was carried up through the walls on a dumbwaiter.

The red brick tower, now painted with red and white horizontal bands, presents an impressive appearance in its position surrounded by the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Assateague Lighthouse, Chincoteague Virginia  (1973)