The Fenwick Island Lighthouse had been in operation for only a decade when William Edward Pepper was assigned as an assistant lighthouse keeper in 1869, a position he held for some 16 years. More than a century later his great-great-great-granddaughter, Winnie Lewes, would become president of the New Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse, dedicated to maintaining and preserving this iconic landmark.
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Tracy Lewis, her daughter and treasurer of the New Friends, will present “Fenwick Light - the Story of One of the Last Land-Based Lighthouses” at the Friday, Sept. 20 program of the Lewes Historical Society. The program begins at 7:30 p.m. at Lewes Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall.
Fenwick Island is a barrier island at the southern border of Delaware with Maryland. In the mid-19th century, said Tracy Lewis, “An increasing number of shipwrecks near the Fenwick Shoals, about six miles offshore of Fenwick Island, prompted the United States Lighthouse Board to recommend the construction of a lighthouse to help mariners avoid the shoals.” She said Congress authorized $25,000 in 1856 to build the lighthouse.
According to the Friends, the United States government paid Mary Hall $50 for 10 acres of land for what was considered the highest point on the island. The site was just feet from the Transpeninsular Marker that defines the Delaware-Maryland state line. The 87-foot conical tower and keeper’s station were completed and the lamp lit for the first time Aug. 1, 1859.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1978 by the U.S. Coast Guard. The light was turned off, and its Fresnel lens was removed. Citizens of Delaware, Maryland, and visitors protested the turning off of the lighthouse and petitioned the U.S. Coast Guard to turn the light back on. In 1981, the Coast Guard passed ownership of the lighthouse to the state of Delaware.
Using historic photos and other archival sources, Lewis will chart the history of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse and how it avoided the fate of many other lights that have been abandoned or demolished. She will also have a show and tell table of historic artifacts from the lighthouse that will support the story of the light and of the lighthouse keepers and their history.
The public is invited to attend. Light refreshments will be served following the presentation.