This week in Washington DC our country inaugurates the forty-fifth President of The United States. There is one lighthouse that has a unique connection to Washington and some of our presidents.
Old Cape Henry Lighthouse is the first lighthouse ordered and financed by the federal government. Said lighthouse is located approximately 209 miles east from Washington on the Fort Story, VA, Military Reservation. It sets at the south entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. At the time this lighthouse was built and first lit in 1792, George Washington was our first President of the United States serving his second term.
This lighthouse is an octangular truncated pyramid of eight sides, rising 90-feet from the ground, and sits on a hill approximately 650 yards from the beach. Sandstone used to build this lighthouse came from the same Virginia quarries that provided material for Mount Vernon, the U.S. Capital Building, and the White House. The original staircase in the lighthouse was built of wood. However, after several years it became oil soaked, a fire hazard, and deteriorated. The wood staircase was replaced by a cast-iron spiral staircase. Light provided in the lantern room was originally projected by a series of lamps strategically placed in the room. Those were eventually replaced by a second-order Fresnel lens. Years later, due to vertical cracks appearing in the walls and fear the lighthouse would fall into the sea, it was closed in 1881 after construction of the new Cape Henry Lighthouse.
Also occurring in 1881, our country had three different individuals serve the office of President of The United States in that same year. First, Rutherford B. Hayes who served out his elected term. Second, James A. Garfield who was shot and killed. The third President serving in 1881 was Chester Arthur.
The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, built during the reign of our first President, George Washington, still stands only a few hundred feet from its replacement. Congress transferred deed in 1930 of the old tower with 1.77 acres of land to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. At the time of my visit here in 2000, the lighthouse was open to the public and received approximately 60,000 visitors annually.