Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2011-08-11.
With City of Philadelphia continuing to grow, the Lighthouse Board realized that better navigation was necessary along the Delaware River. The first step was to conduct several surveys that would run the length of the Delaware River. One of the surveys was authorized on June 18, 1878, with an appropriation of $10,000 being made two days later on June 20, 1878. This appropriation was to cover the cost of the survey as well as purchasing the plots of land for the Cherry Hill Range Lights. The survey took place between August and September of 1878.
The Original 1880 Rear Range Lighthouse (Courtesy USCG)
After all surveys were conducted, the Lighthouse Board had recommended the establishment of four sets of range lights to improve the navigation from Deepwater Point to League Island. The new lighthouses would be the Cherry Island, Schooner Ledge, Tinicum Island, and the Fort Mifflin Bar Range Lights. The original appropriation of $60,000 for this project was made on March 3, 1879; however, once the surveys were conducted, they quickly realized that the project was underfunded.
The three acre parcel for the Front Range light was acquired from the Edgemoor Iron Company on July 2, 1879 for $3,000. On the same parcel of land, adjacent to the Front Range light would be the Edgemoor Lighthouse Depot. Documents also mention that the designs for the two range lights were already approved and it was predicted that the lights would be erected by the end of the year with the estimated cost of $14,500.
Per the Annual Report of the Light-House Board dated 1880, the lighthouses were completed on March 24, 1880 and first lit on April 1, 1880:
267. 268. Cherry Island Flats Range beacons (front and rear), Delaware River, Delaware. - These stations were completed on March 24, and were occupied by the light-keepers on the next day. In accordance with Notice to Mariners, No. 6, 1880, the lights were exhibited for the first time on April 1,1880. Brick oil-rooms were built in the cellars, and the sites were fenced in since their completion.
It seems that the following year the Lighthouse Board was finishing up some work around the lighthouse. The Annual Report of 1881 lists the kitchen and sitting-room walls as being painted as well as the railings, lantern room, and lantern room roof being painted black. The metal roofs of the dwelling and porch were also painted.
In 1886, an attempt was made to bring water to the site. Per the Annual Report of the Light-House Board of 1886:
291. Cherry Island range beacon (rear), on the west side of Delaware River, just above Wilmington, Delaware. An unsuccessful attempt was made to supply water by means of a 4-inch iron pipe, which was driven to a depth of 36 feet, when it struck rock and the attempt was abandoned. A frame storehouse for fuel, &c, and a storm porch in rear of the dwelling were built.
Although the attempt was abandoned, it was successfully completed in 1891. The well, outfitted with a pump supplied the station with water.
Various repairs were made over the years, such as a new fence erected in 1893, and an entry in the 1897 Annual Report listing the dwelling and small tower as being "thoroughly repaired." Also in 1897, a detached brick oil house was constructed onsite. In 1900, an addition added to the lighthouse which would become a kitchen as well as a new rear veranda constructed. The following entry was published in the Annual Report of 1900:
502. Cherry Island range (rear), Delaware River, Delaware. - The addition to the light-house was completed. This is a frame structure, having a stone-wall foundation and a tin roof. The front veranda was remodeled and a rear veranda was built. Various other repairs were made. A topographical survey of the station was made.
Some work was completed in 1901 to remediate some drainage issues. The Annual Report of 1901 had the following entry:
511. Cherry Island rear range, Delaware River, Delaware. - The ground about the light-house, oil house, and barn was graded so as to secure proper drainage, and either resodded or seeded with blue grass. About 700 cubic yards of earth were moved in all, and 1.200 square feet of sod was laid. The road was graded and graveled from the entrance to the barn. Brick walks were laid from the front entrance of the light-house to the road, and from the light-house to the oil house. Various repairs were made.
During the 1950s, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Arthur W. Davis, was stationed at the Cherry Island Rear Range Lighthouse and had a job of maintaining many of the area's automated lights. The area of responsibility assigned to him was from the Cherry Island Rear Range Lighthouse south to the Reedy Island Rear Range Lighthouse. His assistant, James P. Kelly, Sr, lived in the nearby Marcus Hook Rear Range Lighthouse.
In the 1960s, Emil John Herzog, Jr., took over the position until either 1970 or 1971 when the Coast Guard had decided to demolish the Cherry Island Rear Range Lighthouse in favor of the steel skeletal tower that is pictured above.
Directions: The tower stands in a field behind an apartment complex at the foot of Riverside Drive. Drive to the back of the parking lot, where you can get pretty decent views of the lighthouse. Riverside Drive is located off of River Road in Wilmington.
Access: The tower is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Tower closed. Grounds open.View more Cherry Island Rear Range Lighthouse pictures