Accidents

Moving (Light)Houses…Literally

A wooden sign with white writing reads "Shipcarpenter Square" and pictures a wooden boat.

By the sea in Delaware, it isn’t uncommon to move houses. To literally pack up an entire structure and move it to another street. There is even an entire square called “Shipcarpenter Square” in Lewes, Delaware dedicated to housing these relocated historic structures. But not everything there is just an old house.

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The Lifesaving Station That Needed Saving Itself

The original Rehoboth Beach Lifesaving Station #141 was located on the beach, on land acquired by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1878.

Its Captain and crew were most active during the winter months when the Delaware Bay was particularly dangerous (some shipwreck stories here) but as the U.S. Coast Guard expanded, lifesaving stations were slowly phased out.

A wooden lifesaving station on the beach.

The lifesaving station rebuilt today, DCI.

This building was decommissioned in 1947 by the last Captain to serve there, Joseph Walker. He moved the entire building to another neighborhood and made it a home for his family of five. After his death, his widow continued to live there until 1971.

Then it lay vacant, until January of 1998 when a couple named the Readers came upon it. By then it was in desperate shape but they painstakingly restored the home, completing much of the work themselves.

The rebuilt station exterior.

The rebuilt station, Cape Gazette.

To move the house the second floor was completely cut away from the first and reattached in its new location. The only significant change were the “boat doors” which is actually an insulated wall perfectly mimicking the original boat doors.

The floor and much of the woodwork in the station-turned-house is original, as are the sinks and the master bedroom which would have been the bunkhouse for the six man crew (see what that would have looked like in this post).

The Readers even repurposed the ladder used by the crew to keep watch over the ocean into a headboard and bookshelf.

In 1987, the town of Dewey built a replica of the lifesaving station in an effort to restore a piece of history almost lost. It is now used as headquarters for the Dewey Beach lifeguards.

The original station with its crew posing in front on the beach.

The original station and its crew, U.S. Coast Guard.

Rebuilding a Lighthouse Over and Over

In 1831, three lighthouses were built at the mouth of a small river flowing into the Delaware Bay. One of these was the Mispillion River Lighthouse built by Congress for $1,500.

Infamous lighthouse builder Winslow Lewis built the lighthouse on land purchased from the governor for $5. Within two months the lighthouse was already completed and a keeper installed.

Just seven years later, an inspection of the station reported that it was badly built and nearly in ruins. Written in the final report was: “I therefore respectfully suggest that the miserable building at this place may be pulled down.”

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And so, a new lighthouse was built in 1839 in the same configuration. By then the depth of the water at low tide was only 1-foot the entrance was rarely used.

Mispillion was deactivated in 1859 and sold for $135. Its new owner moved the building.

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Then the river changed again and in 1872 a new lighthouse was built. Located close to the beach, the lighthouse was subject to erosion during high tides and winter storms. Three keepers served during its lifetime: James H. Bell, a Civil War veteran; Henry B. Spencer from 1873 until his death in 1896; and Walter Graham who served until 1911 when an automated light was installed.

In 1929 the lighthouse was deactivated and replaced by a 60-foot steel skeleton tower.

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Meanwhile, the lighthouse and its land, was sold to private parties. A severe storm in 1991 swept the nearby buildings inland and flooded them with 8-feet of water. But the old lighthouse did not move an inch.

It wouldn’t always be so lucky. When the lighthouse went up for sale again in 1998 it was mostly a wooden shell.

A skeleton triangular tower stands next to an old lighthouse.

The skeleton tower that replaced the lighthouse, Library of Congress.

A lawyer purchased the lighthouse in 2001 but was mired in zoning disputes. A month later a lightning bolt struck the tower during a storm and sparked a fire. The lighthouse’s interior was severely damaged.

That week, a couple named the Freemans purchased a lot in Shipcarpenter Square. Sally Freeman spotted a picture of the damaged lighthouse in the newspaper and contacted the lawyer who owned the lighthouse.

On the left the lighthouse fully intact during use. On the right the burnt shell with no tower in 2002.

Before during its heyday and after the fire in 2002, Lighthouse Friends.

The remains of the lighthouse tower were quietly sold in 2002 but using what was left of the old lighthouse and the original plans, the Freemans rebuilt the lighthouse as a private home and preserved the Mispillion’s history.

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By the way, if you liked this post you might like “How A Working Lighthouse Ended Up In A Trailer Park,” here.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5