Wolf Trap Lightship

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September 16th, 2006

 Wolf Trap Lightship Mathews County VA


Description: In 1819, the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who was in charge of the young nation’s lighthouses, faced a difficult decision. Congress had appropriated funds for navigational aids in Chesapeake Bay, but only enough to illuminate one of two vital areas. The two options were “Windmill Point, at the south of the Rappahannock River, or a light vessel or boat on Wolf Trap Shoals...” The Secretary chose the Wolf Trap site as the more pressing need.

The troublesome Wolf Trap Shoals received a brand new 180-ton lightship in 1821. The vessel carried two fixed lights, at elevations of 30 and 38 feet, which were visible for ten miles. To further aid mariners, a fog bell was also mounted on the vessel, which was painted lead-gray and had “Wolf Trap” stenciled in black on its sides.

After forty years of service, the lightship was destroyed by insurgents in 1861 after the outbreak of the Civil War. Three years later, a second lightship was placed on the station, when the Union had the region more firmly under control.

On January 22, 1893, heavy ice floes severed the lighthouse from its foundation. A few days later, the lighthouse was found afloat near Thimble Shoals, with only its roof and lantern still peaking out above the water. Keeper John William Thomas was able to escape the doomed structure and walk across the ice to a tugboat trapped in the frozen bay. The lens and lantern room were salvaged from the lighthouse, before it was towed to shore.

These days there are no keepers to come to the aid of ship wreck victims. The lack of human personnel has also led to the inevitable deterioration of the lighthouse, so when the buoy tender Cowslip was dispatched in 1991 to repair the light, its crew had their work cut out for them. They found windows broken by bullets and storms, a leaking roof, plenty of guano, and twenty years of weather damage.

The Cowslip’s Chief Boatswain Mate was optimistic about the future of the station: “This is a strong and sturdy lighthouse and I really think (it will) last another 150 years.” Under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the Wolf Trap Lighthouse was offered to non-profit groups in 2004. When no applications were received, the lighthouse was auctioned online in October of 2005. Nick Korstad submitted the winning bid of $75,000, with intentions of opening the lighthouse as a bed and breakfast. Nine months after winning the auction, Korstad put the lighthouse up for auction on ebay with a starting bid of $119,000. Just hours before the auction was set to expire, a bid was made.

The new owner is unknown at this time, but the lighthouse must remain active and accessible to the Coast Guard. Though it is now privately owned, Wolf Trap Lighthouse will remain a familiar day mark and nighttime aid to navigation, faithfully demarcating the position of the treacherous shoals.



Left to Right: 1) Some sort of Sea coral? Or some sort of plant 2) picture of the trees/beach 3) Beach 4) beach again 5) the Lightship is shown by the arrow...it's that teeny little spec in the distance you can't see! 


Left to Right: 1) Lone Tree 2) Path to the beach


 Informative or interesting links:


Virginia Lighthouses

My Bodie Island Lighthouse Page

My Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Page

My Old Point Comfort Lighthouse Page

My New Cape Henry Lighthouse Page

My New Point Comfort Lightship Page

Wolftrap Lightship specs and photo

New Point Comfort Lighthouse Specs and photo


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