You may notice that New Point Comfort Lighthouse looks a bit different if you are visiting by water or car at the Observation Deck at New Point Comfort Natural Area Preserve this year.
In 2001, the New Point Comfort Preservation Task Force had a significant mission, and has worked hard to raise the funds necessary for a two-phase effort to safeguard and restore the lighthouse. The photo you see above, is Phase II underway.
The energy of this task force combined with the County of Mathews, Mathews County Historical Society, local community, private donors, businesses, local and federal organizations, and the State of Virginia have all played a role in the preservation of this beacon for over 200 years.
In late August, 2020, scaffolding went up around the lighthouse to prepare for the remainder of “Phase II” construction to restore the historically registered (1805) structure.
The lighthouse’s half-mile proximity makes this job tricky, and First Class Contracting of Richmond has developed a plan to get most of the work done on site. Scaffolding has gone up and will be there for the indefinite future along with rubber matting to secure any fallen debris. First steps will be to repair the weather-damaged limestone, cleaning the structure and addressing vandalized doors and windows. Other work includes: abatement of lead paint, demolition and replacement of windows and metal fixtures, mocking up stones to replace damaged brickwork, repointing mortar joints and sealing exterior limestone, and removing and restoring the cupola (on site).
You can see this work with binoculars from a distance at the Observation Deck strategically at the Natural Area Preserve, 105 acres of protected marshland. (The Nature Conservancy acquired this land to protect these important and sensitive Chesapeake Bay habitats, and this Preserve is a key stopover point on the Atlantic Flyway for neo-tropical songbirds and other migratory birds.) Here you can observe 3 major habitats: tidal salt marsh, maritime forest, and sandy beach, and of course, the lighthouse!
The History and Preservation of New Point Comfort Lighthouse
1801 – Construction approved by Congress under Thomas Jefferson’s leadership to construct New Point Comfort (NPC) Lighthouse, one of four structures under the federal program to improve safer navigation on the Chesapeake Bay. Elzy Burrough agreed to build the lighthouse and light keeper’s house.
1804 – Elzy Burrough appointed by Jefferson as the first lighthouse keeper. Construction completed in 1805.
1800’s – NPC occupied by British Navy during the War of 1812. Lighthouse sustained damage then, and also later during the Civil War. The lighthouse and dwelling received several repairs and improvements into the 1900’s.
1900s – Efforts made to reinforce structure with plank walkways and fence. Erosion noticed during this time.
1919 – Lighthouse keepers house removed after decades of weather and erosion of the land and base surrounding the lighthouse.
Head Keepers: Elzy Burroughs (1805 – 1814), Robert Lithburn (1814 – 1815), James B.R. Johnson (1815 – 1819), William Johnson (1819 – 1830), William R. Brownley (1830 – 1846), Isaac Foster (1846 – 1854), James B. White (1854), Edward S. White (1854 – 1865), Joseph S. Allen (1865 – 1869), Sylvester H. Wolhiser (1869 – 1871), J. McHenry Farley (1871 – 1873), John D. Hudgins (1873 – 1876), Leonard Smithers (1876 – 1879), Augustine F. Hudgins (1879 – 1881), William F. Ripley (1881 – 1883), Charles W. Forrest (1883 – 1888), Oliver R. Hudgins (1888 – 1899), James B. Hurst (1899 – 1901), Richard Wiscom Marchant (1901 – 1906), Riley S. Hudgins (1906), Wesley Foster Ripley (1906 – at least 1915), Willie V. Gayle ( – 1916), Christopher C. Butler (1916), Edward A. Sibley (1916 – 1919), Henry Dow (1930-1954). The National Archives & the Mathews County Historical Society
1933 – A major hurricane separated the lighthouse from the mainland.
1939 – Lighthouse Board turned over the lighthouse to the Coast Guard.
1950 – Electricty implemented to power the navigational light.
1954 – Final lighthouse keeper retires.
1963 – New Point Comfort discontinued as an active lighthouse for navigational aid. Local community protested this closure for 3 years. Coast Guard abandoned maintenance in 1968.
1972 – NPC was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a state and national landmark, and acquired by the county in 1975
1976 – Mathews County Supervisors establishes a New Point Lighthouse Committee and two years later, repairs were made through fundraising and funding from the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. Study conducted by Virginia Institute of Marine Science for long-term erosion and impacts to the structure.
1981 – Lighthouse was re-dedicated, and work was accomplished to clean and paint, refurbish windows and the door, and place 600 tons of rip rap to secure the structure. Funded by the State and donors. Additional work completed 7 years later by Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Historic Resources.
1999 – Solar-power light and lens installed.
2001 – Mathews County Historical Society is involved in preservation and New Point Comfort Preservation Task Force was formed guided by the late, Earl Soles.
2009 to 2010 – Study conducted to restore the lighthouse structure and funding secured by a Virginia Department of Transportation Enhancement grant.
2012 – Phase I of the project was completed. Construction of a massive rip rap rock wall installed to protect the lighthouse from water activity from the Mobjack and Chesapeake Bays. An old pier was dismantled.
2016 – A Virginia Department of Historic Resource grant funded the construction of a new pier to provide access for contractors to complete the remainder of Phase II. Additional funding established through the Mathews Community Foundation by the descendants of Elzy Burroughs.
2018 – Earl Soles names Honorary Lighthouse Keeper in Mathews County.
2020 – Phase II of the project commences paid for by the VDOT grant and matching funds provided by the County of Mathews and the fundraising by the NPC Preservation Task Force. This work includes cleaning the building, repair to interior and exterior brickwork, iron fixtures, replace windows and a new door, repoint mortar joints and security system.
Thank you to all of the individuals and groups who have worked diligently throughout the years to preserve this proud beacon for the County, and for the Bay. New Point Comfort Lighthouse still stands as the third oldest lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay, and 10th oldest in the United States.