The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse

There are 5 Delaware lighthouses on the Delaware Bay, including The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. It is situated on the southeast end of the outer breakwater off Cape Henlopen. The initial tower was constructed in 1908 but was later destroyed due to a terrible storm shortly after it was built. The existing tower, which was restored in 1926, is still in use today. 

In 2002, the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation was given a 20-year lease from the U.S. Guard to restore the structure. Since November 30, 2004, it was granted public use through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Many visitors who are looking for Keller Williams shore rentals often ask us about interesting things to do and see in Delaware, and we often mention the Harbor of Refuge Light Station.


The original 1902 temporary light was a 30-feet, white frame tower with a five-day lens lantern that illuminated red light. The first official lighthouse in 1908 was a 52-feet structure featuring a white, hexagonal, three-story, frame building with a black lantern on top of a cylindrical iron foundation. It had a fourth-order Fresnel lens with a white light flashing every 10 seconds. The fog signal was a first-class siren that functioned by compressed air. Several storms that ravished the area between 1918 and 1920 made the lighthouse impossible to inhabit. It was eventually dismantled in 1925.

A second lighthouse was then built in 1926. The height of this tower was 72 feet, and it was a white, metal tower with a black lantern on top. The structure sat on a trumpet-shaped, iron caisson, which was built directly into the breakwater. The pier is lined with reinforced concrete with a brick tower. A heavy block of concrete built within the breakwater supports the entire structure. Its current optic is Vega VRB-25 and is run by solar power. 

The white light flashes every 5 seconds and can be seen for up to 19 miles. The red sector is visible for up to 16 miles. There is also an emergency optic, which is a 250-mm lantern that is also operated by solar power and can be seen up to 9 miles. The current fog signal is FA/232 solar power operated and emits 2 blasts every 30 seconds. The lighthouse was automated in December 1973. Today, the lighthouse is an active navigational aid. 

Plan Your Visit

If you’re planning to stay in one of our Delaware vacation rentals, you simply can’t miss out on this attraction!

Visiting the Lighthouse

If you are staying at a Delaware vacation rental and are looking for something unique to do, a visit to the lighthouse might be a good idea. The Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation offers tours of the lighthouse on specific days of the week during the summer and early fall. 

Many who visit the lighthouse are taken back as to how tight the stairs are to the tower. During the early years of lighthouses, there was a lighthouse keeper who was responsible for replenishing fuel, trimming the wicks, winding the clock, cleaning windows and lenses, and performing maintenance. When electricity was invented, it became possible to automate most of the duties of the keeper, which meant that there was no longer any use for them to remain on the property.

Why The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse Is Still in Use

It is reported that up to 75% of the lighthouses in the United States are operating for navigational purposes. This is precisely why the Harbor of Refuge Light is in use. Today, most of the funding provided to the organization that manages the lighthouse is for maintaining its lights. There are more lighthouses in the U.S than any other country, with the first Delaware lighthouse being built-in 1769. Most fishermen and mariners will agree that the use of a lighthouse is important to them in case the electricity goes out. This is likely the case for many who still depend on the Harbor of Refuge Light Station.