|Mathews County Historical Society, Inc.
New Point Comfort Lighthouse
For 200 years the New Point Comfort Lighthouse in Mathews County, Virginia has been the symbol of safety and home for watermen and mariners on the Chesapeake Bay.
During the early years of our country's history, shipping on the Bay was a critical component for economic development and stability. With Thomas Jefferson in the White House, the second Congress authorized construction of the lighthouse on an island between the Chesapeake and Mobjack Bays. The lighthouse was built by Elzy Burroughs of sandstone from the Aquia quarry -- the same material used in construction of the White House, the Capitol, and other government buildings in Washington, D.C.
President Thomas Jefferson appointed Elzy Burroughs as the first Keeper and New Point Comfort Lighthouse was first lit on January 17, 1805. Since then its history has reflected that of the United States. The British Navy occupied it for several weeks during the War of 1812 before leaving it in shambles and burning the keeper's house.
The house was rebuilt and the lighthouse repaired and then refitted with a Fresnel lens in 1855. In 1861, the Confederates extinguished the light as the Civil War raged up and down the Chesapeake Bay and across Virginia.
One of the few know officially appointed African-American keepers was a preacher, J. McHenry Farley, who served from 1871-1873.
In 1919 New Point light was automated and began using acetylene gas, which did not require a full-time keeper. It was first powered by electricity in 1960 and continued to shine across the waters of the Chesapeake and Mobjack until 1963 when it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard and became a day marker.
The property was acquired by Mathews County in 1975 and local volunteers raised funds for critical repairs and restoration. The County provided more maintenance in 1988 with funding from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
It is the tenth oldest American lighthouse still standing in the country and the third oldest on the Chesapeake Bay. It is listed on both the Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places.
Throughout its distinguished history, New Point Comfort Lighthouse has been a sentinel representing America's proud tradition of navigation, commerce, craftsmanship, and perseverance through peace and war.
Originally built on a 200+ acre island, nature has slowly but surely taken its toll. Costal erosion has reduced the island to less than 1/4 of an acre.
The New Point Comfort Lighthouse Preservation Task Force is working with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Mathews County, and others to determine the best way to preserve and protect the lighthouse and the island that surrounds it for future generations. A plan has been approved and the project has been divided into two phases. Phase 1, now completed, is involved with protecting the land area around the lighthouse from continuing storms, hurricanes, and sea level rise. Phase II involves the preservation work that is necessary on the lighthouse structure. That work is funded and will begin in 2014-2015.
In order to insure its long term survival, the Preservation Task Force is asking for donations to help pay for coastal erosion studies, security and public access plans, and to work on preserving the lighthouse itself.