Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2011-11-24.
The New Castle Range Lighthouses were one set of two pairs of range lights built to mark the Bulkhead Shoal which was in the middle of the Delaware River near a bend. The other pair of range lights was known as the Deepwater Point Range Lights. The Annual Report of The Lighthouse Board for the year 1877 reports:
257, 258, 259, and 260. Bulkhead Ranges, Deepwater Point, New Jersey, and New Castle, Delaware. - These ranges were lighted on the night of November 15, 1876. They mark the channel of the Delaware, where it passes Bulkhead Shoal, and it makes what has heretofore been one of the most difficult parts of- the river easy of navigation. Both the lights of the Deepwater Point group are on an extensive area of reclaimed marsh, and are liable to overflow should any breach occur in the long bank, built at private expense, by which it is protected. Both sites should be protected by interior banks to keep them from overflow, should such a breach occur. The unexpended balance of the appropriation it is thought will be sufficient for this purpose and it is proposed to have the banks built during the present season.
To construct the Front Range Light, the Government purchased a 4.07 acre parcel from L. Taylor Dickson a little over a year earlier on July 26, 1875 for $6,000. The tower, like many in the Mid-Atlantic region such as Hereford Inlet and Cape May Lighthouses, was constructed under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel William F. Raynolds of the Army Corps of Engineers. The original lighting apparatus was a Funck lamp and 24 inch range lens. The book, Description of the Lighthouse Sites of the Fourth Lighthouse District described the keeper's dwelling as:
The dwelling is two stories in height, with tin roof, weather-boarded on outside and lathed and plastered inside. The first story is of brick, cement-washed on outside, and is divided into four rooms, one of which is used as a kitchen, one as cellar, containing cistern of a capacity of 2,000 gallons, the others as work-room and store-room. The second story is divided into four rooms, with porch on front and side, level with second floor. Outside steps lead from the porch to the ground, the entrance to the lantern room being from this porch.
Things were pretty quiet for a few years, until 1880 when a new gallery was built in front of the lantern room to facilitate cleaning the glass in front of the lens. Other repairs took place a few years later. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1883 lists the following:
268. New Castle Range-Beacon, (front,) Delaware River, Delaware. - The boundaries of the site were marked with stone monuments, a picket-fence was built along the top of the low portion of the retaining-wall of the station, and various minor repairs were made.
Although there was a 2000 gallon capacity cistern in the basement of the keeper's dwelling, there was occasionally a shortage of water which prompted the Lighthouse Board to dig a well in 1885. This would ensure the keeper and his family would have an ample supply of water on site.
New Castle Front Range Lighthouse (Courtesy USCG)
Various changes came to the site in 1886. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1886 lists the tower as being detached from the keeper's dwelling and then moved thirty feet to the west on May 7, 1886. This was done to correct the range line and throw it further from the shoals off of Finn's Point. To allow the keeper safe passage, an elevated and enclosed walkway was built from the tower to the keeper's dwelling. The report also lists additional bracing was added to the tower as well. Another addition to the site was a new oil house, which was constructed a ways away from the house to allow for safe storage of lantern oil.
Given the station's proximity to the river's edge, and the frequency of storms in the area, it appears that there were numerous repairs made to the water's edge near the station over the years. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1887 contains the following entry:
292. New Castle range beacon (front), on the Delaware side of the river, about 1.5 miles below New Castle, Delaware. - The embankments were thoroughly repaired, the old sea-wall was rebuilt, and various minor repairs were made.
Similar entries highlighting repairs to the sea wall and protective jetties would be made again in 1889, a few years later in 1894, and then again in 1897. Other minor changes would take place over the years. A new fence was constructed as well as a new lens and illuminating apparatus were in installed in 1889. In 1891, a new summer kitchen, barn, privy, and pump shed over the well were built. Then, in 1894, a new characteristic was assigned to the light. It was changed from fixed white, to fixed white during periods of 2 seconds, separated by eclipses of 1 second's duration.
The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1898 lists both front and rear range lights as being temporarily discontinued on May 3, 1898, although no reason was given for the discontinuation or for the length of duration.
From The Lighthouse Board Annual Reports, dated 1899 and 1900, there was considerable attention given to improving the conditions of the grounds as evidenced by these entries:
487. New Castle range (front), Delaware River, Delaware. - The work of grading and seeding the grounds, grading and graveling the roads, and repairing the sea wall and walks was practically completed. The oil house, pump shed, and a portion of the fences were lowered to correspond to the new grade of the grounds. Drains were laid to carry off water from the dwelling, barn, and garden. Various repairs were made.
495. New Castle range (front), Delaware River, Delaware. - The gravel walk extending from the dwelling to the beach was repaired. About 800 square feet of sodding was laid, and about 96 ornamental trees and shrubs were set out. Various minor repairs were made.
The tower was automated sometime between the 1920s and 1930s. When this took place, the care for the property was turned over to custodians. In 1953, the Coast Guard sold off the property, retaining ownership of the lighthouse tower only. In 1964, the Coast Guard had the old wooden tower demolished, and replaced with the modern steel skeleton tower that is still in use today.
Note: The house sitting next to the tower is private property, please respect this and do not trespass.
Directions: The Front Range Light stands on the grounds of an industrial site. From Highway 9, turn onto Grantham Lane heading towards the water, and make a quick right turn onto Bay West Blvd. You will see fences and think it is private property. It is open and you can drive through. Follow Bay West Ave pretty much to the end. It is here that you will see the tower.
Access: The tower is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Tower and grounds closed.View more New Castle Front Range Lighthouse pictures