The Cape Henry Lighthouses are a pair of lighthouses at Cape Henry in Virginia Beach, VA, at the southern entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. The original lighthouse was the first lighthouse authorized to be built by the U.S. government in 1792. It was also the first federal construction project authorized under the U.S. Constitution. The second lighthouse was built in 1881 following concerns about the age and stability of the original.
Both lighthouses can be visited at “First Landing Park,” where English colonists first landed in 1607. The park is located within the cantonment of Fort Story, which is an active US Military Base requiring security clearance and proper identification for entry.
“The first work of the new U.S. Federal government, the first Cape Henry lighthouse, was built of Aquia and Rappahannock sandstone by John McComb Jr. and was completed in October, 1792. The original lighthouse was damaged by Confederate forces during the American Civil War, but was repaired by Union forces in 1863, who depended on the light for navigation. In the 1870s, concerns about the condition and safety of the old Lighthouse at Cape Henry following a lightning strike that caused large cracks in the structure led to the construction of a new, taller lighthouse at Cape in 1881, which stands 350 feet to the northeast of the original tower. The old tower remains standing, used as a daymark and as a basis for triangulation.”
The lighthouse was visited by Benjamin Latrobe In 1798 and was described as "an octangular truncated pyramid of eight sides, rising 90 feet to the light..."
The new lighthouse stands 157 feet high and is built of both cast and wrought iron, housing a first-order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1983 and remains in use today.