The Historic Coastal Towns Cottage & Lighthouse Tour will take place on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at locations in and near Fenwick Island. The tour features historic cottages and the lighthouse, and will benefit the planned Coastal Towns Museum.
In 1856, Congress authorized the construction of a Fenwick lighthouse due to the many shipwrecks caused by the Fenwick Island shoals. A 10-acre site on slightly higher ground was selected on the Delaware-Maryland line. The lighthouse and keeper’s house cost $23,749 to build.
When the light was first lit in August of 1859, the keepers had to carry whale oil (later, mineral oils) to the lamp on top. The Fresnel lens radiated 15 miles. The keeper, assistant keeper and families shared one house. As the families grew, the need for a second home grew also. The second home on the west side of the lighthouse was built in 1881.
The lighthouse contains two brick towers, not one. The outer conical tower, which narrows at the top, surrounds a cylindrical tower with a cast-iron spiral staircase inside.
Life was difficult for the families, isolated from people and supplies. It was a day’s journey to nearby towns for provisions and fellowship. The families farmed the land around the lighthouse and raised cows, chickens and pigs to complement the keepers’ $400 annual salary.
In the 1890s, new technology helped ease some of the work, when an electric lamp turned by two motors replaced the oil-burning one and a new wood drawbridge was built to cross the ditch.
The lighthouse also served as a mail-drop for summer residents for the first half of the 20th century. Children walked on a path through the keepers’ vegetable fields to collect mail for their parents and to climb to the top for a 360-degree view of the area.
The lighthouse keeper’s house, on the left, was purchased by the State of Delaware a couple years ago and is currently undergoing restoration.
A limited number of tickets are available for the Historic Coastal Towns Cottage & Lighthouse Tour and must be purchased in advance at Sea Shell City in Fenwick, at Ellen Rice Gallery in Ocean View or at Made By Hand in South Bethany, or on line at www.thequietresorts.com. Tickets cost $25, and proceeds support the creation of a new Coastal Towns Museum at 40 West Avenue in Ocean View.
While Fenwick Island homes are open this year, historic cottages in South Bethany will be featured in 2019 to support the developing Coastal Towns Museum.