An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

June 30, 2008

The Old Cape Henry Light

After the camping trip (from the previous post) was over, my son and I went to the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse which is located on Fort Story. When I was in college, Fort Story was one of our preferred places to go to the beach. This is where the Chesapeake meets the Atlantic, the waves were usually good, and the crowds were never there. You could just wave a hand to get through the gate and onto the base. A few world events later, and it is now a little more difficult to get on base. We had to submit ourselves to everything short of a full body cavity search to get on. They needed I.D., auto registration, all compartments, hood and doors open, and a mirror search of the undercarriage. The guards went through all of our camping gear, cooler and bags, and the whole time one of the guards kept his hands on his gun as if we were about to bolt. The lighthouse was the first public works project that the newly formed United States chose to fund. George Washington took an avid interest in the construction of the light and it was completed in 1791. It was built on the top of a tall hill, probably the remnants of an old sand dune.

From the top you get a good view of the Chesapeake, the Atlantic and Fort Story. There were many dolphins in the water feeding, playing and doing whatever it is dolphins do. You also get a good view of the "new" lighthouse.

This is the underside of the dome.
I wondered why they kept these bags of Quickcrete door near the stairs. Was it for emergencies?
The base of the tower is made of soft Aquia sandstone, and originally it was below the soil line at the top of the hill the tower rests on. With wind erosion the base is now exposed 7' below its original level.
The "new" lighthouse began operation in 1881, and is still in use today. The old light was purchased by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) and is one of their 32 owned or maintained properties.
The fence outside of the lighthouse grounds is adorned with black ribbons, and on them is a hand written list of all of the soldiers who have been killed in the current Iraq war. The memorial is very organic and citizen driven, and stands in marked contrast to the officialness and sterility of the base. The ribbons were already fading and tattered, and I feel that many people's awareness of this ill-conceived war is in the same condition as the ribbons.


  1. Hi, Les--I've just discovered blogging and just discovered your blog--your photos are beautiful, and I'm glad to have this great resource to gardening in the Tidewater (though you're closer to the water than I am . . .)

    Cosmo (at cosmosgarden)

  2. I love lighthouses! We have been to Cape Henry a few years ago. I can't remember having a hard time getting into the base. Interesting how that must have changed. What is still stuck in my mind is the rusty ladder on the very top of the lighthouse - I somehow got the rust all over my light-colored clothes that day.

  3. My husband is a Navy brat and retired Air Force guy. I've heard him talk of Hampton Roads numerous times and he wants to go back and visit. He went to elementary school close by. I would love to see these light houses when we go. You've done an excellent job showing pictures and writing about them. I was very disturbed by the memorial of black fabric tied to the fence. It looks like landscaping fabric and there would be no way to preserve that. I would have thought the same as you===forgotten. That's so sad.

  4. Cosmo,
    Welcome to the blogasphere and come back to visit anytime.

    The rusty ladder is still there.

    The ribbons were made of real ribbon, so they are even more temporary than landscape fabric. A man in the gift shop said that they have already lost several of them.


  5. Hi Les! I have finally made it over here. I was so wrong with where I thought you gardened. Seems like Virginia area and not Cali.

    I love the ocean and grew up on in Maine. You and Cosmo are so lucky to live near it. We have lots of lakes and rivers here in Tennessee. That is great too.

    The memorial is poignant. Having been to Iraq (my husband as well) early on in the war I can tell you it is not a real nice place. He knew many who were killed in a helicopter crash and it affected his unit and him a great deal, as well as Fort Campbell. There are many homemade memorials here and in Iraq to the fallen. It is nice to be reminded I think.