History

Construction

The Lightship Overfalls, known to the men who served aboard as LV-118, was the last lightship built for the U.S. Lighthouse Service (USLHS).  She was only one of the two lightships built in the 20th century for which the Congress made a separate appropriation for a lightship to serve on a specific station.  She was built in East Boothbay, Maine in 1938 and incorporated the latest features of lightship design at the time, including steel bulkheads to compartmentalize the ship.  She was the last lightship commissioned by the USLHS and the last built with a riveted construction. All subsequent lightships, and ships in general, were and are built using welded seam technology. One year after the Overfalls was commissioned, the USLHS and all of its assets (lightships, lighthouses, etc.) in 1939 were merged into the U.S. Coast Guard, so for almost all of the ship’s service life she was a Coast Guard ship with uniformed Coast Guard crews aboard.

Service History

The ship had a distinguished career serving on three significant lightship stations. 

  • The first from 1938 to 1957, Cornfield Point in the east end of Long Island Sound is off of Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

  •  In 1958, she was moved to Cross Rip near Martha’s Vineyard just south of Cape Cod.

These stations marked the two ends of the inland passage through the treacherous shoal waters used by ships transiting from New England down to New York and points south.

  • In 1962, she was reassigned to the Boston station six miles east of the lighthouse marking the entrance to Boston Harbor where she stayed until she was taken out of service in 1972.

Coming to Lewes

In 1973, the Coast Guard donated the ship to the Lewes Historical Society (LHS) to serve as a floating museum in Lewes, Delaware.  LHS brought her to her current location on the canal in downtown Lewes and painted on a new station name, OVERFALLS, in honor of the lightship station closest to Lewes.  The Overfalls station is in the mouth of Delaware Bay where lightships had served as a mid-channel marker from 1898 to 1960 when the station was discontinued.

 

What started it all! Newspaper clip from the July 23, 1999 Cape Gazette

After arriving in Lewes, the Lewes Historical Society and several community groups attempted to preserve the ship and keep her open to the public.  However, critical maintenance resources were not available so time and the elements took a toll on her.  Because of the ship’s deteriorated condition and liability issues,the Lewes Historical Society tried unsuccessfully to sell the ship in 1999, some 23 years after receiving the ship from the Coast Guard. 

At that point, a group within the Historical Society formed and took responsibility for the ship.  The group, initially known as the Friends of the Lightship Overfalls, incorporated as an independent 501 (c) 3 foundation  and purchased the ship for one dollar. The foundation's initial mission was clear: save the ship, make her sustainable and put her in a proper setting.

In order to have a chance of achieving this new mission, the Foundation established an organizational structure to support the mission.  This included writing bylaws, electing officers, legal and regulatory compliance procedures and a host of other functions that are necessary to survive in today’s complex environment.

Honors for the Ship

Despite its deteriorated condition, in 1988, the U.S. National Park Service listed the Overfalls in the National Register of Historic Places. Because of the ship’s unique characteristics (she has no sister ships which is unusual for lightships of the period which typically had one to five sister ships emanating from the same set of plans) and high degree of integrity, the National Park Service in June, 2011, designated the Overfalls a National Historic Landmark, a much more significant honor than being listed in the National Register of Historic places.  Read the Overfalls' application to be considered a National Historic Landmark.

The Big Lift and Beyond

The Overfalls Foundation has published a 36-page paper, The Big Lift and Beyond: the story of saving an historic ship and putting her in a setting worthy of her past and the crews who served aboard her"

The first paragraph from the Forward describes best the contents of the paper:

"This document tells the story of the saving of the Lightship Overfalls (LV-118) by the Overfalls Foundation. The main emphasis is on the activity in the years 2006-2010. Given that the period prior to those years was significant, information related to the earlier period is included with enough detail to set the story in context."

For a comprehensive description of the Overfalls saga, the frustrations, the near defeats, the triumphs, and the successful completion, click here to view the The Big Lift and Beyond.

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