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Assateague Island Lighthouse

Chincoteague National Wildlife Reserve

Assateague Island, Accomack Co., Virginia (October 2012)

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A Short Video I Took at Assateague Light

Assateague, Virginia

The Assateague Lighthouse is easily accessible and open to the public. A simple trip to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the northern end of Virginia's Eastern Shore is all that's required. Drive through the quaint fishing village of Chincoteague and across the causeway onto Assateague Island, then follow the signs. The lighthouse is located near the entrance accessed via an easy wooded path from a parking lot on the right side of the park road. The path rises to the top of a small sandy knoll to the lighthouse location. It is open to the public from April through November, every day during the summer and on Fridays and weekends during Spring and Fall.

A small admission fee allows one to climb the iron spiral staircase to the observation deck atop the tower for sweeping views of Assateague and Chincoteague Islands, and out to the Atlantic Ocean. One wonders why the light isn't located a little closer to the Atlantic shoreline. That's because Assateague is a barrier island, and like all sandy barrier islands it has a tendency to shift, move, grow and shrink. The lighthouse used to be closer to the shore, however in this case the island has grown several square miles in the last century and a half.

Assateague Island Lighthouse

Assateague Island Lighthouse

The lighthouse at Assateague was one of the latter navigational aids built along the eastern seaboard, intending to fill a gap between Cape Henlopen towards the north on the Delaware side of the Delaware Bay opening, and Cape Charles at the southern end of the peninsula at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The government opened a light station on Assateague Island in 1833, however it wasn't adequate. The tower wasn't high enough and the light not bright enough to sufficiently protect ships sailing past the coastline.

The current version was constructed in 1867 and automated in 1965. The Coast Guard continues to maintain the beacon as an active navigational aid.

Virginia Lighthouse

Assateague Light from the Sound

The most striking and immediately visible characteristic of the Assateague Island lighthouse is its coloring: alternating red and white stripes. Red generally isn't a color used on lighthouses along the mid-Atlantic coastline. The lighthouse was in serious need of a new coat of paint during our visit (2012) although funding was being sought to do that.

The tower rises 142 feet and is set atop a naturally elevation rise, giving it a 154 foot focal plane. It is constructed of brick which is easily observed within the interior as one climbs the staircase.

Fresnel Lens

The Original Lens

The current version of the Assateague Island lighthouse was outfit with a first order Fresnel lens, a major lens intended to overcome the deficiencies of the earlier light. Originally it was lit by oil and later by electrical bulbs powered by a generator. The lens was removed and replaced by a Directional Code Beacon in the 1960's when electrical cable was finally strung to the island.

A small museum is located on Chincoteague Island at the base of the causeway leading to Assateague Island. It includes a number of fascinating exhibits including the taxidermy body of the famous pony, Misty of Chincoteague. The largest artifact however, located immediately through the museum doors, is the original Fresnel lens that once illuminated a beacon far out to sea from the Assateague Island lighthouse.

Lighthouse Keepers Quarters

Keepers Quarters

One can find the old Keepers Quarters just south of the lighthouse. It is not open to the public because it is now used to house seasonal workers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Coast Guard owns the light and the Wildlife Service owns the grounds and the quarters. This was about the best picture I could take without going on to the actual premises and obviously it was being used, judging by the trucks in the lot.

Readers who have an interest in lighthouses might also want to check my Lighthouse Index