Strategically situated at the mouths of the James, Nansemond, and Elizabeth Rivers, Old Point Comfort Lighthouse marks the entrance to historic Hampton Roads.
Some historians believe that Native Americans kept wood fires burning at the point for Spanish ships during the 16th century. Records of a navigational beacon on Old Point Comfort date to 1775 when John Dams, caretaker of the ruins at Fort George (a predecessor to Fort Monroe), was paid an annual supplement of 20 pounds to tend a light there.
About 1800 Congress appropriated $5,000 for lighthouse construction costs, and contracted the services of Elzy Burroughs to complete the octagonal stone structure. Burroughs completed most of the work on the lighthouse, which stands 54 feet high, during 1803. The tower’s spiral staircase was built of strategically stacked hand-cut stone. Eleven oil lanterns, which consumed 486 gallons of oil each year, were set in 14-inch reflectors to produce a light that could be seen from 14 miles at sea.
During the War of 1812, the lighthouse became an observation post when it temporarily fell into British hands. In 1855, Congress appropriated $6,000 to build a fog bell tower for inclement weather. Measuring 40 inches around and three feet high, the bronze bell could be heard up to three miles away. Soon thereafter a beacon light was added to the station to guide ships docking at Fort Monroe.
Throughout the Civil War, the lighthouse operated undisturbed under Union control. After the War, the lighthouse was in danger of being closed but the historic and aesthetic value of the light helped save it. The lighthouse tower is now registered as a Virginia National Landmark and remains a welcoming beacon to all who pass.
Today visitors can enjoy a stroll around the lighthouse exterior or a picnic near its base.