Destination Delmarva

Baby, Baby, Baby…Light My Way

How can you not hear that U2 song and think to yourself, I need to learn more about the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse? Well, maybe it’s not what immediately comes to your mind. After all, I am but a dork, but I promise you’re going to find the following very interesting.

The Delaware Bay Coulda Been the Hudson Bay?

From the time of the earliest American settlements, Cape Henlopen and its entrance to the Delaware Bay has been considered a treacherous nautical landscape. The depth of the water has always varied due in part to the numerous shoals. (Once again please reference Exhibit A in my previous post. Apparently I didn’t get the same memo shared by centuries of sailors.)

“Cape Henlopen, which marks, the southern mouth of the Bay, shifts over time and it has an extensive shoal, known as Hens and Chickens shoal, directly to seaward.”1

In 1609, “Henry Hudson, in his voyage of discovery, chose not to sail up Delaware Bay” because of these shoals and the knowledge that “ships that anchored in the lee of the Cape were often driven onto the beach or up the Bay to the shallow bars.”

Hens and Chickens Shoal, on the ocean side of the Cape, was one of the first American sites to be marked by a lighthouse.”2

The Original Cape Henlopen Lighthouse

Originally constructed in 1767, the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse was nearly burned down by the British in 1777. Almost 150 years later, the sea and shore erosion won the war with the lighthouse.  The lighthouse finally succumbed to a Nor’Easter and literally fell into the Atlantic Ocean.  (See Photo Below.)

The Cape Henlopen Lighthouse was one of less than 12 total at the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775. “These “pre-Federal” towers have several things in common. All of them are massive towers of rubble stone: locally available stone not dressed into blocks but fitted together by expert masons. The walls are solid stone, many feet thick at the base.

“All three lighthouses were built by local craftsmen of great skill; we know their names but we know little or nothing of their lives. All three are revered local landmarks, preserved today with the greatest care. And all three are still active lighthouses with more than two centuries of service to their credit.”3

While Cape Henlopen Light is no more, there is still one colonial lighthouse that has not only survived for almost 250 years, but it is still in use today. In addition, it served as the pattern for the original Cape Henlopen Lighthouse. Located in New Jersey at the southern entrance of the New York City Harbor, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse is alive and well.  So if you ever find yourself in the neighbourhood of NYC, be sure to check out the sister of Cape Henlopen Light!

Cape Henlopen’s Lighthouses Today

Today, two lighthouses remain on the Cape:  the Harbor of Refuge (SOUTH) Breakwater Light (which is still operational) and the Delaware Breakwater Light (which is no longer operational but still maintained). Both lighthouses are now in the care of the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation. They are a volunteer organization who does an amazing job of keeping these historic landmarks relevant.

These beautiful structures not only set up an amazing backdrop to any and all photos you take, their historical and engineering significance are best appreciated up close and personal

I have been lucky enough over the years to have experienced these lighthouses via the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, the A.J. Meerwald Tall Ship and via my own boat. But possibly my most favourite way for experiencing the Delaware Breakwater Light is via kayak. There’s nothing like it and don’t worry, you don’t even need to bring your own kayak!

If you love history, being on the water, picnicking while floating, photography and even bird watching, then I have an adventure planned for you!  Visit my post called “Delaware Bay History From Afloat” for tips on planning your next history excursion via water or land!

Delaware Bay History From Afloat


(Historic photos are courtesy of the Archives and Historic Records under Delaware State Museums,Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.)

4.) Retrieved from
5.) American Discovery Trail: Delaware. (1991-07-30). Retrieved on 2016-10-12.