Cape Henry Lighthouse is Finally Getting Fixed

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cape henry lighthouse virginia beachOnce the old Cape Henry was retired, it fell into limbo. Thankfully, in 1930, the U.S. Congress deeded the Lighthouse and 1.77 acres of surrounding land to Preservation Virginia.           

Originally called the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Preservation Virginia was founded in 1889, at a time when the idea of preserving the past was still a little out of the mainstream. It formed out of local branches in small towns across the commonwealth and is recognized today as the nation’s first-ever statewide preservation organization. “Back in those days, your only option for preservation was to basically buy the building to keep it from being demolished or significantly altered,” Malon says. “Now with easements and other tools that we have available to us, we don’t actually need to own them to still affect preservation.”         

Today, in addition to Cape Henry, the association maintains and protects several important properties, including Historic Jamestowne and Bacon’s Castle in Surry County, which will celebrate its 350th anniversary this year. Today’s mission is to take more of an advocacy role; Preservation Virginia publishes an influential “Most Endangered List” to bring awareness to vulnerable historic sites. In 1989, it started a Revolving Fund program with the Virginia General Assembly to help save Virginia’s oldest and most significant structures.         

old and new lighthouse cape henry virginia beach“We own about 15 properties now,” Malon says. “When I first started, many years ago, we had more than 40. But we’ve systematically been reducing that portfolio so that we could focus more on preservation as an overall activity rather than those specific properties. When we had 40 properties that was basically all we could do; every dollar we raised went into restoring and maintaining them.”         

Over the years, there has been some upkeep on the grand old beacon. In 1953, during the destruction of Hurricane Barbara, the top of Cape Henry Light blew off; more recently, a 2011 earthquake shut the lighthouse down during summer tourist season.                

Today, this old tower is one of Preservation Virginia’s most visited sites. “It’s only used now as a navigation aid, but it’s still active,” Jennifer Hurst-Wender says. “Even with all of the technology, mariners can still look up and see it and know where they are.”         

“The City of Virginia Beach is proud to have it here,” Mark Reed says of John McComb’s lighthouse. “It’s always been a place that people want to visit. This lighthouse places Virginia Beach as a focal point of the earliest days of Virginia and of the history of this country.”         

Read this article in full in the February/March 2015 issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine.

 The author acknowledges the research of the Friends of the Lighthouse organization.

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