Cape Henry Lighthouse reopens after restoration project

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A beacon of Virginia Beach is ready for the next century and maybe beyond.

The Cape Henry Lighthouse has been standing almost as long as the nation has existed, and was the first public works project of the United States.  

It’s withstood centuries of wind, rain and snow. Back in the fall, it closed to visitors so it could get $1.1 million worth of work to keep it standing for years to come.

The Cape Henry Lighthouse guided ships into the harbor when it was built back in 1792.

“You don’t want to crash, you need kind of a beacon of light,” said Victoria Calkins, a tourist from New Jersey. “I can imagine if you were coming into the Chesapeake Bay, I mean how amazing this would’ve looked to mariners who were coming in and guiding their way.”

In 1881, a new lighthouse took that job. However, the original, which is on the seal of the City of Virginia Beach, stayed standing.  

“The fact that we’re here, standing on something George Washington himself authorized in 1789, people can still visit today, is just so amazing,” said Jessica Collins, who is a site coordinator with Preservation Virginia.

To keep it standing for centuries to come, Preservation Virginia and the City of Virginia Beach planned a restoration project.

“It also provides a setting that is equal to the status of the lighthouse, which is a National Historic Landmark,” said Mark Reed, a historic preservation planner with the city.

When you walk up the steps to the lighthouse, the first thing you’ll notice is the paved dune, instead of sand and stone. There are also new steps into the lighthouse, a new safety rail, and a new compass rose. Also new is a shuttle that takes visitors from the entrance of JEB Little Creek-Fort Story to the lighthouse.

The most important work was stabilizing the dune and the lighthouse. 

“It had eroded significantly by the, really by the 1930s,” said Reed. “It was important to be able to cover it up to the original level to stop the erosion that was occurring, the damage to the stone, and to put something in place that would settle once and for all the problem of erosion at the dune.”

There is now a series of retaining walls with plastic, soil and sand supporting the base of the lighthouse.

It reopened to visitors a few weeks ago, bringing people from near and far.

“I think our farthest visitors were from Sweden this past week,” Collins said. 

Although its no longer providing that guiding light, the Cape Henry Lighthouse is still a symbol of the city, standing for centuries to come. 

The official opening ceremony for the lighthouse is Saturday, May 4 at 11 a.m.

You can also help raise money for its upkeep by participating in Pints for Preservation. 

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