Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thimble Shoal Light...The Lighthouse That Became A Ship Magnet

The Thimble Shoal Lighthouse
The Lighthouse That Became a Ship Magnet

I'm still hanging around The old Dominion for this one...specifically, the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, about three and a half miles off of both Fort Monroe and Buckroe Beach, where seagulls ride the sea-breezes, bluefish the size of a small boat occasionally run, and a big dark red can-shaped lighthouse protects the hard left turn that the Thimble Shoal Channel...the primary channel for ocean going ships entering and leaving Hampton Roads...makes as it enters Hampton Roads..

Thimble Shoal channel itself actually starts several miles east and south, a few miles off Virginia Beach, then cuts across the mouth of the bay at a slight diagonal before making that hard left into Hampton Roads. There's a reason for that sharp turn, by the way, and that reason is named Thimble Shoal. When the channel hangs that left turn to make the run into Hampton Roads it passes between a pair of long narrow sandbars that come to within a few feet of the surface of the bay....Willoughby Spit to the south, and The Horseshoe to the north, with The Horseshoe's six or so mile length extending the furthest into the bay by far.

That sandy bit of shoal water's been a hazard for as long as ships have been entering Hampton Roads. Back in 1608 the trio of ships that brought The Jamestown Colonists over managed to both miss Thimble Shoal and navigate the natural channel between The Horseshoe and Willougby Spit without grounding, but since then a long list of ships, both famous and not so famous, have spent time grounded on one or the other of the bars. (Just ask the Captain of the USS Missouri about that one! )

The Horseshoe's shallowest point, which coincidentally is also the point nearest the channel's hard-left-turn, is covered by about eleven feet of water at low tide. Any decent sized commercial vessel or warship draws, at the very least, two to three times that in ballast...loaded, of course, she'll draw even more water. This, of course, means that any large ship that cuts that corner too short or strays from the channel after making the turn, is going to find herself a part of the bay bottom until a bunch of big tugs and a good bit of concerted effort can muscle her off of 'The Thimble' as this little stretch of submerged sandbar has been know for over a century and a half.

 Just how it got that name has been lost forever to history, but this shallowest, trickiest to navigate, easternmost point of The Horseshoe is, together with Willoughby Spit, known as 'Thimble Shoals' to this day, and the lighthouses that guarded it were and are known as Thimble Shoals Light. And that's where we get to our story...

If you've ever driven across The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel you've dived beneath Thimble Shoals Channel as you entered the Bridge-Tunnel's southernmost tunnel. The south end of the Bridge-Tunnel bisects Chesapeake Beach as it begins it's trip across the bay, and Thimble Shoal Channel runs three and a half miles off of and roughly parallel to the beach at that point, giving beach goers and visitors to the restaurant and fishing pier on the CBBT's first island spectacular views of ships entering and leaving Hampton Roads. The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel...Tidewater's and the world's first bridge-tunnel complex, now part of I-64...also dives beneath the Thimble Shoal Channel. Thimble Shoal Light sits just about smack dab dead center between the two spans. At night you can see the lighthouse throwing a white beam across the night sky from both the Chesapeake Bay and the Hampton Roads Bridge to the west and north from the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and to the east of the Hampton Roads B-T. If you know exactly where to look on a clear day you can catch a glimpse of the light house itself from both spans (Though it's a little easier to see from the Hampton Roads B-T) as well as from both Fort Monroe and Buckroe Beach.

The big, cylindrical steel lighthouse that warns incoming ships clear of Thimble Shoal has been in place since 1914, but it's not the first lighthouse that's been in place's actually the third. The lighthouse that it replaced is the apparently jinxed subject of this post.

Thimble Shoals was protected by lightships for decades before a permanent lighthouse was built, with the last lightship stationed there being the iron hulled LV23, built in 1857 and reassigned in 1872 when the first Thimble Shoal Light was built...interesting little factoid here. The lightship was officially called 'The Willoughby Spit Lightship...the name 'Thimble Shoals Light' wasn't used to identify the light until the first permanent structure was built.

LV-23...the former Willoughby Spit Lightship...around 1892, after she was reassigned to Ram Island Reef, off of the Connecticut coast.

There were two reasons that the lightships were replaced in the bay (And all along The East Coast, ultimately) and both are very familiar even today. Their names are Money and New Technology. Lightships required far more maintenance than permanent structures, had to be dry-docked for maintenance at regular intervals, and ultimately, had to be replaced. Staffing costs also factored heavily in the decision. Lightships needed larger crews than a lighthouse (Most off-shore lighthouses had two to three guys on duty while a lightship required a crew of 10-12)..

Then there was the newer technology of the screw-pile...iron pilings that were very literally screwed down deep into the bottom to support the spidery iron framework that supported the lighthouse. Screw Piles were supposedly quick to build, fairly inexpensive, and would, theoretically, weather the worst that Mother Nature and the whims of the Bay's weather could throw at it. If you've ever been in the middle of a Chesapeake Bay Nor'easter and watched the normally tranquil bay get whipped into a wind blown, frothy-topped cauldron of 6-8 foot...and even higher...seas, you know what the crew of an anchored 120 or so foot lightship would be subjected to. It would not have been a fun ride.

A screw-pile lighthouse on the other hand could be built well above all but the very worst seas, and the open iron framework of the screw-pile foundation would let most of the waves' momentum and force just pass through without even jiggling a cup of coffee in the lighthouse kitchen.

So the powers that be had meetings, formed committees, and decided that a screw-pile lighthouse would be built astride 'The Thimble'. The new light would be out in the open bay and subject to wind and seas from all sides so it's foundation would have to redefine 'robust. It'd also have to be screwed deeply into the bottom to find a solid footing...bottom sand wouldn't cut it. And that actually became a problem, because the crew building the screw pile foundation almost didn't cut it. The sand, that was fine and tightly compacted, forming a dense, mud like obstacle to the screw-piles, which had a rage-inducing tendency to snap off at the screw as they were being screwed down into the bottom. Construction was halted a couple of times when this happened so the broken piling and the guide beams that were used to keep the screw-pile properly aligned as it was driven into the bottom were backed out and replaced. OH...did I mention that a couple of the guide beams broke as well? Being seasoned Watermen, the guys building the foundation probably had extremely colorful and descriptive things to say about each occurrence as they backed the broken piling out and started over.

Thimble Shoal Light, possibly as it originally appeared. The first and second screw pile lights were all but identical, right down to their fate.

But ultimately they got the foundation built and prepared for the new lighthouse (The lighthouses themselves, BTW, were built in sections on shore, barged in, and installed using a big...make that huge, especially for that era...steam powered derrick.) During that era, any and all construction, be it single family home, commercial building, or government building, was a work of art loaded down with ginger bread woodworking, graceful balconies and roof-lines, and decorative molding and woodwork and the new lighthouse was no exception. It was described as a 'Hexagonal gingerbread cottage with the lantern protruding from it's roof'. It was built in eleven feet of water, and displayed a fixed white light that was broken by a series of red and white flashes. The new light quickly became a landmark and...was destroyed by a fire if unknown origin on October 30th, 1880, in full view of the citizens of the then small village of Buckroe Beach, as well as the personnel of Fort Monroe, none of whom could do a whole heck of a lot about it. The lighthouse keepers escaped using the structure's lifeboat and the burning lighthouse collapsed into the bay with a huge, roiling cloud of steam and the sizzling hiss of a million eggs frying, sending the lighthouse board back to Square One. This, by the way, was the first of a series of disasters that were to befall Thimble Shoal Light.

The lighthouse board hired a crew to make a trip out to survey the ruins, a diver was sent down using one of that era's bulky diving suits...the kind with the iconic port-holed metal helmet portrayed in dozens of cartoons...and they found that much of the metal structure of the lighthouse was singed but intact, including the fresh water tanks and parts of the lantern. The screw-pile foundation itself was damaged slightly but repairable. And low and behold, a new lighthouse that was slated to be installed at Bells Rock was ready to go.

Hampton Roads' heavy traffic and the severe hazard posed by Thimble Shoals moved replacing Thimble Shoal Light to the top of the priority list so the Bells Rock lighthouse was reassigned to Thimble Shoal, loaded on a barge, and delivered. The lighthouse tender Tulip delivered the construction crew and divers to the site on December 6th, and most likely also shuttled building materials out as needed, as well as shuttling the crew back and forth daily. Over the course of the next eighteen days the divers recovered the usable portions of the burned structure, and the new lighthouse was installed on the old screw-pile foundation. They were hustling, bigtime...the new thimble Shoal Light was lit for the first time on Christmas Eve of 1880, just a week shy of two months after the original burned..

This was probably the photograph was used as a model for the above painting  (OK, that means that the painting is of the second Thimble Shoals Light).  Note the fog bells at the roof dormers, and the lifeboats. The flag would denote weather warnings as well as wind and sea conditions.

I have a sneaking suspicion that all of these off-shore lighthouses were built using a common set of blueprints with modifications made as's a practice that's used by Local, State, and the Federal Government to this very day and then as now would have been the most efficient and economical way to go. The many paintings and photos of the 2nd Thimble Shoal Light pretty much prove that theory. Like the first light it was an hexagonal frame structure with the lantern and it's tower protruding from the center of a hip roof. A frame porch surrounded the structure, and decorative trim set it off beautifully. The lighthouse wasn't just functional and efficient, it was pretty. Artists loved painting it, photographers loved getting pictures of it, and postcards by the hundreds were printed using one of the paintings or photos of the lighthouse. Thimble Shoal Light became a showpiece of the lower Chesapeake Bay. Only problem was, it would soon be discovered that the new light apparently attracted ships the way a toy magnet attracts paper clips

A James Milton Sessions painting featuring Thimble Shoal Light...the light was a favorite for artists and photographers, both as a main subject and as a background for seascapes. James Sessions was a master at this type of painting, and from what I've seen regularly used Thimble Shoal Light in his works.  Unfortunately for Thimble Shoal lighthouse lovers and lighthouse keepers, a couple of ships got way closer than any of the craft depicted in Mr Sessions' painting

Admittedly Thimble Shoals Light sits at a turn on one of the busiest channels on the East Coast, and dozens of ships passed it daily both inbound and outbound, but the lighthouse didn't...and doesn't... sit in the middle of the channel. It sits astride The Horseshoe, in eleven feet of water at low tide, several hundred yards from the center of the channel. The light's surrounded by The Horseshoe's shoal water. Theoretically, any ship of any size...even back at the turn of the 20th Century..should have grounded before it reached the lighthouse.

Guess what didn't happen that way!

That turn into the channel was not easy to navigate in clear weather, a good, rockin' Nor'easter or even a heavy fog made it into a iffy proposition to put it mildly.. The lighthouse also featured a pair of fog bells that were automatically rung at five second intervals during low visibility, and the lighthouse was built to be...well, seen. That big Fresnel lens sent out a white beam visible for 12 miles every other second, and it took a serious bit of pea soup fog to completely mask it, but none of this helped if there was a mechanical failure or human error involved.

The close calls probably started soon after the first lighthouse went in service, but through sheer luck, the first Thimble Shoal Light wasn't ever hit before it burned. The second light wasn't so lucky. A steamer got a piece of it eleven years after it was built, but that apparently wasn't a major collision.
Then, in 1898, a tug lost a coal barge which apparently ran up underneath the southeastern side of the screw-pile foundation and knocked it out of true, managing to carry away a large hunk of that wraparound porch while it was at it. It also cracked two or three of the octagonal walls, splintered floor joists, and actually lifted the lighthouse about an inch off of the foundation.

Repairs took a month or so most likely...A temporary light may have been utilized while this was going on, and I'm assuming that this collision occurred during warm weather...we'll get to why I'm making that assumption in a bit.

Everything went fairly smoothly for the next 11 years and change. In January 1903, the distinctive fog bells were replaced by a far less charming and melodic but far more audible and efficient air-powered fog horn. There were storms, nasty weather, lots of really epic morning sunrises witnessed by lighthouse keepers as they leaned on the rail of that wrap-around porch with the morning's first cup of coffee in hand...and then came the oh-not-so-lovely morning of December 27th, 1909. Two days after Christmas and just more than 19 years after the light was first shown.

From what I've been able to gather from readin' and reasearchin' and the like, 12-27-1909 dawned as a dreary, cold, windy morning on the bay, and then the weather got worse. It started spitting snow, then snowing in earnest, and then the wind started to really howl. The light house keepers probably made sure the light was working properly, set the fog horn to belting out it's pregnant-cow-in-labor 'BawOOOOONNNNNK' every five seconds, then stoked the stove up and got a never ending pot of coffee going. It was gonna be a long day...

...And they didn't know the half of it. Enter the tug John Twohy, towing the schooner Malcomb Baxter, Jr. The John Twohy came into the picture sometime during mid-morning, and when she approached The Thimble, the weather had gone from nasty to brutal. There was a good solid Nor'easter blowing with the added fun of snow squalls dropping visibility to, at times, just about zilch. Seas were probably running eight to ten feet or there-abouts, and the wind was easily a sustained thirty knots with gusts hitting the 45-50 knot range. Just not a good day to be out on the bay.

So in the finest tradition of mechanical bad timing, just about the time the Twohy started to make that corner at Thimble Shoals, her tow...the Malcomb Baxter...lost her steering. Now, if a ship being towed is using her steering to assist the tug or ship towing them, and she looses her steering, it can make for a long long day in good weather. (This is why, generally, the helms of ships under tow are locked with the rudder dead center). Now, throw in the kind of blow that the area around Thimble Shoals was experiencing on that exceptionally nasty Dec 27th 105 or so years ago and the tow not only quickly becomes unmanageable, it puts the tug and her crew in jeopardy when it does so.

The wind and waves were slewing the Baxter around and pushing her sideways, pulling her towline as taut as a guitar string as it tried to pull the Twohy's stern around, and the Twohy's crew knew exactly what had happened the very first time that the towline suddenly gave a violent sideways yank to their stern and tried to swing them broadside to the wind...and more importantly to the seas.

The Baxter's crew signaled to the Twohy that they had lost their steering (Probably using lights or flags as the schooner most likely didn't have fact it's highly likely that neither vessel had wireless as it was still an extremely new and all but experimental technology in 1909.) Even as this message was being sent via whatever method was used, the Twohy's captain sent a couple of crew members aft to release the towline before the tug got pulled broadside to the waves, potentially swamping or capsizing her.

The relief was immediate aboard the Twohy as her captain rang for all ahead full, and gave rudder orders to bring her was probably almost the same as steering a car into a skid as, relieved of the several hundred tons trying to drag her stern around, the Twohy's bow snapped back around so she was perpendicular to wind and waves...but there was another problem.

The Baxter was now just an expensive piece of driftwood, her course and final destination at the will of the weather. They were approaching that corner between Willoughby Spit and The Horseshoe when the Baxter's steering called it quits...and after the Twohy cut her loose, instead of making the corner, she made a wind and wave driven beeline for the lighthouse.

Her crew could see exactly where they were heading, and could do absolutely nothing about it...the two lighthouse keepers who were on duty may or may not have seen the Baxter coming their way, but they were even more helpless than the Schooner's crew, lighthouses being pretty permanent and thus highly unmaneuverable fixtures. The lighthouse keepers, whether aware or unaware of what was coming, were suddenly and violently knocked off of their feet when the Baxter was slammed hard against the southeastern corner of the screw-pile bounced clear, then a another sea...this one a bit higher...slammed her against the foundation and the lighthouse itself, carrying away some of that wraparound porch. Inside, dishes and instruments hurtled from shelves, desks, and tables and shattered, sending pieces skittering across the floor.. Then she came up with another trick as the wind swung her broadside, then slewed her, and her jib boom slashed across one wall of the lighthouse, shattering windows, tearing away sideboards, and tearing the stovepipe loose...the waves pulled her back. then again slammed her...hard...against the lighthouse.

The lighthouse keepers were having enough trouble just staying on their feet and clear of flying wreckage when one of them saw an ominous strip of daylight beneath one of the six sidewalls, probably one of the walls on the southeastern side of the lighthouse...the floor of the lighthouse was separating from the sidewalls. The two men ducked, rolled, and dodged flying debris as the boom slashed through, and over them, and the lighthouse started filling with coal smoke as the stove spewed acrid smoke straight into the building. Something else they noticed...the stove had been knocked away from the metal floor plate that kept it away from the wooden floor...

WHAMMMM!!!! This was the hardest hit yet, sending both men tumbling. At the same time they hit the floor, the stove slammed over on it's side and blazing coal rolled and tumbled in all directions.. In less than a minute ten or twelve incipient blazes were flickering and flaring, and climbing the walls towards the ceiling. Now the lighthouse had fire extinguishers...probably soda acid extinguishers...and the guys may have even grabbed a couple of them before realizing that they'd be of little use against multiple, fast spreading fires. On top of that, the schooner slammed into the lighthouse once again,scattering the burning coal to other corners of the building, at the same time widening the gap between floor and wall. Not only was the place on fire, it was coming apart around them.

The time to un-ass the building had arrived. The Lighthouse had two lifeboats...thankfully on opposite sides of the lighthouse so one was on the opposite side from the schooner that was pummeling them...and the two men quickly grabbed foul weather gear, made their way to the lifeboat, uncovered it and, as heavy smoke pushed from the damaged lighthouse, lowered themselves to the churning surface of the bay. They released the falls and pulled hard on the oars as flames cooked through windows and walls, boosting a dirty-gray smoke column skyward and adding a bright but definitely unwelcome splash of color to a gray, dreary day.

Back then even though there were fire boats wireless was, again, a rare item so there was no way to call for help. On top of that, the majority of fireboats are not designed to take on the seas generated by a good, kickin' nor'easter so the flames quickly took full possession of the damaged lighthouse which ultimately collapsed into the bay, hissing and sizzling as it did so, just like it's predecessor, .

The lighthouse keepers spent a cold, wet, and seriously miserable couple of hours riding out the storm until the Twohy managed to pick them and the lifeboat up, after which she chased down the errant and destructive Baxter and, after a very likely major bit of maneuvering and difficulty, got another towline established. I have to assume that either the Baxter's crew...who weathered the pounding their vessel gave and got from the lighthouse without injury...managed to somehow either repair the steering or tie the rudder amidships, because they continued their interrupted trip into Hampton Roads without further mishap.

Now the light was only about three and a half miles off of Fort Monroe and Buckroe Beach, and though visibility was, at best, suckish I have a feeling that the glow was visible, so there were likely people who figured out that there was something not quite right out in the bay. This, of course, was quickly confirmed when the Twohy docked and the lighthouse keepers appeared in the district office of the U.S. Coast Guard. That conversation would have been worth time traveling back 105 or so years to eavesdrop on.

The only thing that could be done was begin the voluminous report that, even back then, likely had to be filled out and send a crew out to size up the damage and get some kind of light operating as soon as possible...the latter done as soon as the weather cleared up. The damage size-up was easy...there basically was no more Thimble Shoal Light. The only thing left was the somewhat warped screw-pile foundation with a few charred pieces of wood hanging on to it.

A small temporary beacon...probably battery powered...was installed on a hastily built platform on top of the damaged screw-pile foundation within a few days. Within a month or so, repairs had been made to the screw-pile foundation and a more substantial tower had been built, along with a small frame structure that served as quarters for the lighthouse keeper. Then the planning for the light's permanent replacement began in earnest. 

The temporary beacon atop the damaged screw pile foundation. This was taken just four days after the collision and fire that destroyed the second lighthouse.  Take a look at the piling closest to the camera, and note both the way it's bent and the fact that the two horizontal structural members close to the water are detached from it...probably damage from the pounding that the Baxter gave it. Ditto the two beams that form a bent 'V' just to the right of the same piling. A crew probably had to go out nightly to light the beacon...not a fun job in heavy weather.  The Bay's almost like a sheet of glass in this pic, a far cry from the seas that had been running four days earlier.  

It would be five years before a new lighthouse replaced the temporary structure perched on top of the old screw pile. First the Lighthouse Board had to come up with a design, and as the frame screw pile lighthouses, pretty as they were, just weren't standing up well at that location, they decided on newer technology...the so called 'Sparkplug' lighthouse. 

A good schematic of Thimble Shoal Light's  then-new 'Spark plug' lighthouse.

The reason it's called a spark plug light is...well, look at a couple of pictures of 'em...they do indeed look like a giant version of their namesake. A spark plug lighthouse has a metal, cylindrical superstructure containing the living quarters and light, built on top of a deep caisson type foundation. The caisson and superstructure are both prefabricated ...the superstructure in sections...on land, barged out, and assembled. The superstructure sections are lifted into place by crane and assembled, erector set style, on site (The Caissons towed out in one piece, floated into position, then sunk into the bottom by pumping water, air, and sand out once it's in position. If it's obstructed by rocks or other obstructions, the process is reversed...air's pumped in, forcing water out and allowing crews to go down into the caisson and deal with the obstruction. was exactly as complicated, expensive, and sometimes dangerous as it sounds. Two men died while Thimble Shoal Lightwas being built)

The Lighthouse Board also had to wait for Congress to approve and disperse funds for the new lighthouse, and then as now waiting for that crew to do anything was, at best, a long drawn-out process. It took almost three years for funds to be earmarked for construction, in two batches of greenbacks...$60,000 in June 1910,and $38,000 in August of 1912...then construction took another year and a half or so.

Interesting little factoid here...the temporary light was, of course, still in use while the new light was being built and a rope bridge was hung between the small living quarters structure on the old screw pile and the abuilding new light so the construction crew had shelter. Bet crossing that was fun in less-than-awesome weather!

The rope bridge between the new Thimble Shoal Light and the temporary quarters on the old light's screw pile foundation. Bet that was fun in anything other than dead calm weather!\

Here the new lighthouse's caisson's been floated into position and sunk. Also a good view of the old foundation and temporary quarters. Much of the machinery visible on the caisson was associated with pumping out the caisson to sink it and was removed before assembly of the lighthouse itself began

Crew working on assembling Thimble Shoal Light back in 1914...note the sections of the casing lying on the deck, beneath where they are to be assembled (And the lack of guard rails of any kind or safety harnesses...this was way pre-OSHA!  The rope bridge leading over to the temporary quarters on the old foundation can be seen in the foreground.
The new Thimble Shoal Light, with the old light's screw pile and the temporary light and quarters that had been built on it to the right. The old foundation stayed there until 2003. Interestingly enough, the old foundation never appeared an any paintings of the new light.

The new light featured unique 'porthole' windows and was fifty-five feet tall with a lantern that originally sent a white flash across the bay every two seconds (It now sends a white beam across the bay every ten seconds). It had a kitchen, pantry and living room on the first floor, a pair of bedrooms on the second floor, and a third bedroom, a watchroom, and the equipment room for the lantern on the top level, just below the lantern. There was also a basement, contained within the caisson, and a 360 degree roofed 'gallery, or deck, off of the first level.

The lighthouse has been in service for going on 100 years this year. The light was automated in 1964, removing the need for lighthouse keepers, the power source for the light was changed from huge lead acid batteries to solar power in 1986, and the whole lighthouse was refurbished in 1998, with other repairs taking place in 1993.

What about the old screw pile foundation, you was in place until 2003, even though it's removal was suggested...strongly...nearly ten years earlier. And the story doesn't end there...back in 2004, The National Historical Lighthouse Preservation Act was passed, to save all of these bits of national and maritime history. The idea was to donate the lighthouses to nonprofit organizations and let them take over the care and maintenance of the lighthouses (And thereby relieve the Coast Guard of the burden, and save the Federal Government money). One problem...they couldn't find a nonprofit organization that wanted to take over the care and feeding of Thimble Shoal Light.

So they decided to auction it off. Who'd buy a lighthouse, you may ask. How 'bout Smithfield, Va's own Peter Jurewicz, who bought the lighthouse for $65,000, and is now in the process of restoring it to it's 1914 appearance while at the same time converting it into one of the cooler vacation homes in existence anywhere.

The light, of course, still functions as a navigational aid, and the beacon and associated hardware is still maintained by The Coast Guard. And a new generation gets to experience that peaceful feeling of watching the sun come up over the bay.

Thimble Shoal Light as it looked when Peter Jurewicz bought it...he added the boat hoist soon after buying it. Sure, it nneeds a little work, but...

Ya just don't get views like this at your beach cottage at Sandbridge or Nags Head...ya just don't!!!

I could get used to waking up to a view like this real quick!


It's interesting that there are no paintings, sketches, or images of any kind  in existence of Thimble Shoals Light's destruction considering that newspapers and magazines such as Harper's Weekly regularly published elaborate, often very accurate engravings of various disasters. There may be a reason for this though...this was probably more or less a 'flash in the pan' news story. When you get right down to it it was basically a house fire, granted a house fire that occurred in a unique location and destroyed a structure that was both a major navigational aid and a local landmark.

It's destruction was witnessed by only a very few people, and the aftermath really didn't affect the average citizen much at all. There were no injuries or fatalities.There weren't even any real ruins to gawk at, other than the screw pile foundation, and even if there had been ruins left to gawk at it would have been exceedingly difficult for the average Hampton Roads area resident to get out to them to so gawk. The story probably passed out of the public eye fairly quickly, so while there are literally dozens of pictures, both photographs and paintings, of the second light there are absolutely none...that I could find anyway...of it's destruction


At one time there were more than a dozen lightships on the Chesapeake Bay, all of which were ultimately replaced by either screw pile lighthouses or Spark plug lighthouses. A couple of the screw pile lights were in service well into the twentieth century. At one time, there were close to a hundred screw-pile lights along the East Coat between Delaware and Florida, now there are fewer than ten in existence worldwide. One of them's in the North Sea, on the other side of 'The Pond'.  Five of the ones left in the in Maryland and four in Florida...are still in service. Almost all of the spark plug lights that were built in the early 20th century are still in service.


While 'Spark plug lighthouse' is the most common nickname for the type of lighthouse now in place at Thimble Shoal, they are also known as 'Coffee Pot' lighthouses and 'Bug Lights'


Back in the pre-Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel days, the ferry landings were at Little Creek, on the mainland, and Kiptopeke over on The Eastern Shore. I believe the ferries (Which I rode around a hundred times as a child visiting my paternal grandmother) had to swing a bit east to clear the tip of The Horseshoe before swinging back northwest crossing the bay. I still to this day miss that 90 minute or so boat ride!

<***>LINKS<***> The all but inevitable Wikipedia article about Thimble Shoals light An excellent resource not only for Thimble Shoals light, but for lighthouses in general. This is a truly awesome site if you are a light house buff. This is Pete Jurewicz personal Thimble Shoals light site. The restoration of the present light is well chronicled, with lots and lots of pics. Today show story about Pete Jurewicz's purchase of Thimble Shoal Light, with video.

1 comment:

  1. great history lesson. i'll look for this next time i am visiting relatives on maple st., just off of shore drive, and indian hill rd on the bay side of va beach.