Who doesn’t love a lighthouse?
Apparently that’s the thought process of the United States Postal Service, as it recently unveiled a Forever Stamp series featuring five Mid-Atlantic lighthouses. Noted artist Howard Koslow, who died in 2016, honored Delaware’s Harbor of Refuge as well as lighthouses in Montauk Point, N.Y.; Navesink, N.J.; Erie Harbor, Pa.; and Thomas Point Shoal, Md. This is the seventh installment in the postal service’s long-running lighthouse series that began in 1990.
A ceremony was held Aug. 16 at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal to celebrate the Harbor of Refuge’s inclusion in the series. As a longtime USPS advocate and a retired captain in the Navy, Sen. Tom Carper said the stamps combine two of his passions.
“The postal service is near and dear to my heart,” he said at the ceremony. “It’s also part of the economical infrastructure of this country. We have millions of jobs that depend on the postal service, and we’re going to need a vibrant postal service for as long as any of us are alive and a lot longer than that.”
The lighthouse has also served an economic purpose, ensuring commerce and cargo make it safely to their destinations.
“I don’t suppose many of us think of a lighthouse as helping people, but for 95 years it’s been helping a lot of people,” Carper said. “Lighthouses are also more than just an economical device or safety device, but they are a thing of beauty.”
Tim Slavin, director of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, said people have a connection with the Harbor of Refuge for a variety of reasons. For him, he said, it’s strength.
“I always rely on it as my touchstone,” he said. “It’s just so reassuring to me, and it’s a symbol of strength when we may have winds blowing in our personal lives or in our community.”
The Harbor of Refuge was created in the late 1800s to provide shelter for oceangoing vessels caught in violent Atlantic weather and has gone through a series of changes in its evolution. The breakwater was completed in 1901, with temporary lights added on either end in 1902. The lighthouse was built in 1908, replacing the 1902 tower. In 1925, the lighthouse was demolished and replaced by a new structure, completed in 1926.
The new tower, as shown on the stamp, stands on a cast-iron caisson supported by a heavy block of concrete that lies within the breakwater. The 76-foot-high conical lighthouse is built of cast-iron plates and lined with bricks. The tower displays a flashing white light every five seconds. It is visible up to 19 miles away and is an active aid to navigation.
The lighthouse has been owned by the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation since 2004. Past President Red Moulinier spearheaded the effort to preserve the lighthouse, and he was particularly impactful in securing a $750,000 grant to build a durable dock to ensure volunteers can visit the lighthouse for routine maintenance and provide tours.
The dock was key to the foundation’s goal of restoring, maintaining and preserving the lighthouse.
“In seven years, we replaced that dock 13 times,” Moulinier said. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 put the finishing touches on the docking system, and Moulinier and the foundation believed the mission was lost.
Then in 2013, Moulinier received a phone call about federal money available to states affected by Hurricane Sandy. After filling out a lot of paperwork, Moulinier was able to secure necessary funds to build the more robust dock, which has been in place since late 2016.
Since that time, the foundation and its volunteers have revitalized the Harbor of Refuge both inside and out.
“They say it takes a village, but in our case it takes a metropolitan city to do what we’ve done,” Moulinier said. “There’s nothing glamorous about owning an offshore lighthouse. It’s a lot of hard work – a lot of challenges. Challenges I could never even dream of going through.”
Although they’ve overcome many hardships, issues still remain, particularly the state of the breakwater. Moulinier estimates about 70 percent of the rocks around the base of the lighthouse have been lost. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin a study of the problem in September.
“Our biggest fear right now is the breakwater because there are some real issues out there,” Moulinier said. “But if anyone can fix it, it’s the Corps of Engineers.”
The Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation regularly offers tours of the Harbor of Refuge. All tours for 2021 are sold out. Information on future tours and events will be posted at delawarebaylights.org.
The stamps may be purchased through the USPS website at usps.com/shopstamps, by calling 844-737-7826 or at local post office locations.
“I cannot think of a better way to get our history of the lighthouse out to every person in this country,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. “A Forever Stamp is going into every household, and they’re going to see Lewes, Del., written on the bottom.”