Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2015-06-28.
As commercial activity flourished in North Carolina in the mid-1700s to the 1800s, Wilmington became one of the largest ports in the state. A hurricane struck the area on September 23, 1761 carving out a new inlet near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. This new inlet would shorten the travel time to the Port of Wilmington, and would become the preferred route of mariners.
In 1784, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed a law to establish rules for navigating the Cape Fear River. One of the things the law did was levy a tax of six pence per ton on incoming cargo to raise money for a lighthouse. The law stated that the lighthouse was to be built "at the extreme point of Bald-head or some other convenient place near the bar of said river, in order that vessels may be enabled thereby to avoid the great shoal called the Frying-Pan."
By 1789, the Colony of North Carolina had purchased a ten-acre site on the west side of Bald Head Island from Benjamin Smith, who would later become governor of North Carolina in 1810. Although construction of a lighthouse was started, it was not finished as supplies never made it to the island.
North Carolina joined the United States in November of 1789. The following year, the State of North Carolina ceded the ten-acre plot of land and the incomplete lighthouse to the federal government. It would take more money and several years before the lighthouse was first lit on December 23, 1794.
Due to erosion, the Bald Head Island Lighthouse would be rebuilt in 1817. Although the lighthouse served the inlet well, marking the entrance to the Cape Fear River, it did little to mark the Frying Pan Shoals some nineteen miles offshore. To rectify the situation, the Lighthouse Board ordered a light vessel be placed off the southern extremity of the shoal in 1854.
The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1854 had the following entry:
LIGHT OFF THE FRYING-PAN SHOALS, CAPE FEAR, NORTH CAROLINA - The Lighthouse Board of the United States has given notice, that a light-vessel will be placed off the Southern extremity of the Frying-pan shoals. The vessel will carry two lights at an elevation of about 40 feet above the level the sea, on her two masts - she will be painted yellow, as well as her lower masts, but with white topmasts - and she will carry an open work oval day-mark, painted black, at an elevation of about 58 feet above the water line. Her yellow hull will have "Frying-pan Shoals" in large black letter on both sides.
This lightship was known as Lightship D, and it served the Frying Pan Shoals from 1854 to 1860. LV-8, after being outfitted for lightship duty, was assigned to the Frying Pan Shoals in 1860. While on its way to that location, it was seized and sunk in the Cape Fear River by Confederate forces.
With the onset of the Civil War, the station was left unmarked from 1860-1863. Starting in 1863, LV-32 was stationed at Frying Pan Shoals. This vessel would serve nearly two years before being replaced by LV-29 on December 20, 1865. LV-29 would mark the location until 1871.
Due to the exposed location of a vessel being "stationed" in the open ocean, most lightships were at its mercy. Therefore, service at the location was covered by several different lightships, each for random periods of time. A lightship would usually stay at the site as long as it could, before being brought in for repairs.
Although there were talks in 1885 of constructing first-order lighthouses on both the Frying Pan Shoals and the Diamond Shoals, both in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina, in the end, the decision was made to only move forward with a lighthouse on the outer shoal at Diamond Shoals.
Years later, in 1889, the Lighthouse Board had recommended the construction of a first-order lighthouse on Bald Head Island, to mark the Frying Pan Shoals. There was no movement on the request for nearly a decade. Finally, in 1898, Congress approved the request for what would become the Cape Fear Lighthouse.
Over the next several years, the work progressed along. By August 31, 1903, the first-order Fresnel lens of the new Cape Fear Lighthouse was illuminated and began flashing. Although the new Cape Fear Lighthouse adequately marked the Frying Pan Shoals, the Lighthouse Board left the Frying Pan Lightship assigned to the location.
Over the years, the Frying Pan Shoals location has been marked by LV-32, LV-29, LV-34, LV-38, LV-53, LV-1, LV-94, before finally being marked by LV-115/WAL-537.
When the United States Lighthouse Service was in charge, lightships were marked by their hull number, such as LV-115, where LV stood for Light Vessel. A single lightship would serve many posts over its lifetime, and would take on the identity of the location it was stationed at. To do this, the name of the location would be painted on the side, such as "FRYING PAN."
When the United States Coast Guard took over for the Lighthouse Service in 1939, each lightship was given a new hull designation that started with WAL. "W" was the code used for the U.S. Coast Guard, "A" stood for anchored, and "L" stood for light, which meant Coast Guard Anchored Light.
Lightships that were built before 1939, kept their "LV" designation, but obtained an additional WAL designation. Lightships built after 1939 were given only a WAL designation.
LV-115/WAL-537 was built in 1930 by Charleston Drydock and Machine Company in Charleston, South Carolina for a contract price of $274,434. It was powered by 350HP electric motor driven by four 75 KW Diesel engines, giving it a max speed of 10 knots. Its illuminating apparatus was a 375mm electric lens lantern located on each masthead and its fog signal was an electric diaphragm and a mushroom trumpet. A hand operated fog bell was kept as a backup.
When launched, it was stationed at the outer edge of the Frying Pan Shoals in North Carolina from 1930 to 1942. With the onset of World War II, it was pulled from lightship duty and employed by the U.S. Navy as an examination vessel. From 1942 to 1944, it was stationed at Cristobal, near the Panama Canal. It was later transferred back to Charleston, South Carolina, where it continued as an examination vessel through 1945.
After the conclusion of World War II, it was placed back into lightship duty and was assigned back to the Frying Pan Shoals, in North Carolina. It served that post until 1964 when the U.S. Coast Guard replaced it with a "Texas Tower," which resembled an oil platform. The tower, which consisted of four steel, concrete-filled piles driven into the ocean floor, was then topped with a square platform which would serve as the living quarters and a helipad. One corner of the platform housed a light.
Frying Pan Lightship and Frying Pan Tower.
When the Frying Pan Light Tower was complete and activated, LV-115/WAL-537 headed north to Cape May, New Jersey, where it would take on a new assignment as a Relief Lightship. When another lightship needed to be brought in for maintenance, a "Relief" ship would take the post until the regular lightship returned. It would only serve in this capacity for a year before being retired from duty on November 4, 1965.
The lightship sat unused for nearly two years before the Coast Guard donated it on September 5, 1967 for use at a museum in Southport, North Carolina. While there, the ship was opened for tours. The museum was eventually shut down after budget cuts, and the lightship sat. While local officials were trying to determine what to do with it, it sank at the dock ruining its engine.
The Frying Pan Lightship was raised and sold off. The new owners moved it north to Whitehaven, Maryland, on the Wicomico River where it was docked at an old oyster cannery. The developer tried to resell it for use as a restaurant, however, the plan failed and it was soon abandoned.
During the time in which it was abandoned, a pipe burst on a cold day in 1984 allowing seawater to rush in. The ship soon capsized and sank. The ship lay on its side for three years before the Coast Guard complained that it was a hazard.
Plans were being made to sell the ship for scrap when John Krevey, an electrical contractor with a fondness for sunken ships heard about it. Having raised, restored, and sold several other sunken vessels, Mr. Krevey was up for a new challenge. The Frying Pan Lightship was raised in 1986, and he purchased it in 1987 for $8,000.
John Krevey and a large group of friends would arrive every Thursday night and work on the ship all weekend long. Once a new engine was installed, the ship was moved north to Annapolis, Maryland, where it sat until the following spring.
The next stop for the LV-115/WAL-537 was north into Philadelphia. Once there, it was much easier for the group to travel from New York City to Philadelphia to work on the aging vessel. After a year of additional repairs, the lightship made the final journey to New York City.
For the first six months the ship was in New York Harbor, it was anchored behind the Statue of Liberty. The Coast Guard wasn't happy with the arrangement, so it was soon anchored off Riverside Park. Eventually, the Frying Pan ended up at Pier 66 in Hudson River Park.
Today, the Frying Pan Lightship is part of Pier 66 Maritime. The seasonal outdoor site at Pier 66 includes an eclectic mix of equipment. Some of the items at Pier 66 Maritime include the former Lackawanna railroad barge, the Pier 66 Maritime Bar & Grill, the Frying Pan Lightship, and an authentic 1900's caboose.
Pier 66 Maritime Bar & Grill is open seasonally from spring through fall. It is a full service bar with food prepared on site. It is a great place to watch boats traverse the Hudson River and enjoy the sunset.
Directions: The Frying Pan Lightship is located at Pier 66 in Hudson River Park, New York City (W 26th Street entry).
Access: The Frying Pan Lightship is open the same hours that Pier 66 Maritime Bar and Grill is open. Please see the "visit" section of the Frying Pan Lightship website for more information.View more Frying Pan Lightship pictures