Responsible for establishing aids for the navigation of our nation’s waterways, the United States government initiated the use of manned lightships or “floating lighthouses” in 1820. These vessels addressed many needs. They could be placed in locations where deep water or shifting shoals made fixed structures impractical or impossible, and they could be moved and repositioned easily. The beacon on the lightship’s mast and the sound of its foghorn contributed greatly to the safe passage of ships in various weather conditions. By the mid-20th century the increasing use of automated lights and radio signals made these vessels obsolete. With the decommissioning of the last vessel in 1985, the era of the lightship was ended.
The Lightship Overfalls (LV-118 or WAL-539) was built in 1938 at the Rice Brothers Shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine. It was one of the last lightships constructed. Duty stations included Boston Harbor and two locations near Long Island, New York. After retirement from active service it was given to the Lewes Historical Society in 1973. The ship was renamed to recognize the lightship station on Overfalls Shoals that marked the southern entrance to the Delaware Bay. On December 7, 2001, ownership of the ship was transferred to the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation. The Lightship Overfalls is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
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The Delaware Public Archives operates a historical markers program as part of its mandate. Markers are placed at historically significant locations and sites across the state. For more information on this program, please contact Sarah Denison at (302) 744-5016 or via email at Sarah.Denison@state.de.us.
LOCATION: Lewes, on the south side of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal just off Pilottown Road