America’s ‘first public works project’: Cape Henry Lighthouse to close for restoration

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Cape Henry Lighthouse has been standing since the United States was only 16 years old. 

The 200-plus years of Mother Nature haven’t always been kind to the structure. So to keep it standing, it’s time for some upgrades.

Nearly 200 steps to the top, the Cape Henry Lighthouse marks the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. 

Authorized by George Washington, it’s been there for 226 years.

“It’s the first public works project of the United States” said Jessica Collins, site coordinator of the Cape Henry Lighthouse. “Really the first thing the U.S. Congress under the Constitution ever did was build this lighthouse.”

It hasn’t been used since 1881, when a newer lighthouse was built.

“That’s not very common,” said Collins. “So typically when a new lighthouse is built, they tear the old one down, but they didn’t tear this one down because of its connection to the Founding Fathers.”

It’s now a popular tourist spot, but it needs some help. 

“If the dune keeps eroding, we would lose the lighthouse,” Collins said. 

Nearly two-thirds of the lighthouse’s foundation is exposed, thanks to Mother Nature. 

“Here you can see the effects of 200 years of wind and water, and its been exacerbated by later attempts to repair the structure,” said Mark Reed, Historic Preservation Planner with the City of Virginia Beach.  

Reed says the restoration project will focus on restoring the dune and stabilizing the base.

“This is a national historic landmark. We only have two of those in Virginia Beach, very important to preserve it,” said Reed.  “We’re going to improve the visitor experience significantly here around the base of the lighthouse.”

It’s a $1.1 million project, funded by federal grants, the City of Virginia Beach, and Preservation Virginia, which owns the lighthouse.

“It’s an icon for Virginia Beach, it’s right in the center of our city seal so its an important project to us,” Reed said.

This restoration project does mean the lighthouse will close to visitors sometime after Labor Day, likely next week. Their goal is to reopen in March. 

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