Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Assateague Island Lighthouse is a striking landmark that attracts many visitors. At the same time, it is an active aid to navigation, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, that gives ships a visual point of reference and warns them to stay away. Assateague Lighthouse is owned and operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and maintained by the Chincoteague Natural History Association.
The Lighthouse Grows...and Gets Its Stripes
Built in 1833, the first Assateague Lighthouse was just 45 high, less than a third the height of the building before you. Eleven small fish oil lamps provided all the light, so it was not completely effective as a warning to sailors.
The Current lighthouse, built in 1866 and 1867, is 142 feet tall and rooted in the sand by a foundation that is 12 feet deep. The stripes were not added until 1963.
Turn Up the Light
For many years, a Fresnel lens focused the light of a single, 4-wick fish oil lamp. Then, in 1963, the oil lamp was replaced by and automated electric lamp, which creates a double flash every 5 seconds.
The Wreck of the President's Yacht
Shipwrecks were common along this coast, and staff from several lifesaving stations on Assateague Island saved
many lives over the years. The most famous occurred in 1891, when President Benjamin Harrison's official yacht, the Despatch, wrecked. Staff from a lifesaving station about a mile south of here saved the entire crew.