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 American Lighthouse Foundation, Inc.

P.O. Box 565

Rockland, Maine 04841

Phone: 207-594-4174


The American Lighthouse  Foundation is a  Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Organization dedicated  to the preservation of America's historic lighthouses.






Restoring a Lightship

Lightship Overfalls Nearing Completion



For the last eight years a band of crazies has invested 12,000 hours of volunteer labor in restoring the Lightship Overfalls (LV-118) in Lewes, Delaware.  This effort has turned an old rust bucket into a shipshape lightship looking like it is ready to serve on station.  She is clean, freshly painted, the bunks are made up and it

Lightship Overfalls

Photo Courtesy David Bernheisel    

The Lightship Overfalls (LV-118) in her

current slip in Lewes, Delaware


looks like the crew is still aboard.


The ship, built in 1938, last served on the Boston station until 1972.  In 1973, the U.S. Coast Guard declared her surplus and donated her to the Lewes Historical Society.  Upon arrival in Lewes, the Historical Society rechristened her Overfalls in honor of the town’s nearest station where lightship’s marked the entrance to Delaware Bay from 1898 until 1960.


The ship’s first 25 years in Lewes were difficult despite being listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1988.  Maintenance resources were scarce while time and the elements took a toll on her.  By 1999, the ship had reached derelict status.  That was the year that a small group formed what was to become the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation with a mission to save and restore the ship.  They felt that this national treasure had to be saved to enhance the maritime understanding of future generations.


The new group’s first task was to develop a comprehensive plan for saving the ship, an expensive proposition.  But, maintenance resources


Volunteer Jack Lesher

Photo Courtesy David Bernheisel    

Jack Lesher, a member of the Dirty Hands Gang, works

 over the fuel oil fill.

were scarce for the new group also, so the plan was front loaded with work that could be done with volunteer labor and limited supplies.  While the volunteer work crew (named the Dirty Hands Gang) went to work, others in the group set about building a strong organizational structure that could support the restoration.  One of the key support tasks was fund raising, an activity that initially had to concentrate on modest sums from local sources.  As the Dirty Hands Gang’s work became evident and the Foundation grew in strength, fund raising was more robust resulting in a couple of six figure grants.


The phase of the restoration left is the most complex and costly.  The ship has

  been sitting in saltwater with no maintenance to the hull below the waterline since 1973, and there are places that she is completely rusted through.  Fortunately the leaks are contained and efforts to patch her are moving forward.  The big effort is to get the ship out of her current slip and tow her to a shipyard across Delaware Bay where she will get the corroded hull plates replaced, some interior structural repairs and a fresh coat of bottom paint.  While the ship is gone the slip will be bulkheaded, dredged and land side improvements made to properly moor her and set her off in the town’s new Canalfront Park.


The Foundation has been aided in the restoration by many interested individuals near and far who, when hearing of the need, have contributed to the effort both with funds and materials.  As examples, the Foundation has received gracious gifts of an engine order telegraph unit and a set of running lights in this manner.  The need goes on.  If anyone knows of a source for a set of eight either bollards (or large dock cleats) and/or several hundred feet of two inch line, they would serve to moor the ship in her new slip and add to the aesthetics of her nautical setting.


This last phase of the restoration will cost $1.2 million.  With funds collected over the years, the Foundation has half of that amount in hand. 


To generate the remaining $600,000, the Foundation has launched a major capital campaign that will run through the remainder of 2007.  The resultant funds will put the ship in her new slip in sustainable condition and looking good for the 2008 season.


The Overfalls Foundation is proud of its accomplishments to date, plans for the future and is

Overfalls Lightship gets a new coat of paint

Photo Courtesy David Bernheisel    

The Dirty Hands Gang preps the hull

for a new coat of paint

  anxious to tell its story.  Regular ship tours run from May through October and special tours are possible any time by prior request.  The Foundation is also prepared to take the Overfalls story on the road with a PowerPoint presentation to groups.  To respond to this article or for more information on the ship or any part of the Foundation’s program, visit the web site at or e-Mail  

 Posted: 8/2/2007


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P.O. Box 565 - Rockland, ME 04841

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