Lightship Portsmouth Museum – Portsmouth, Virginia - Atlas Obscura
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Lightship Portsmouth Museum

Portsmouth, Virginia

A lightship turned museum, outfitted with artifacts from the vessel's past as part of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. 

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The Lightship Portsmouth (LV-101) was built in 1915 and within a year, was pressed into duty as part of the United States Lighthouse Service, a predecessor to the U.S. Coast Guard. The ship, built in Wilmington, Delaware, is 102 feet long with a 25 foot beam and 360 ton displacement. 

Lightships served as floating lighthouses between April 1820 and March 1985 in places where it was impossible or impractical to erect conventional lighthouses. There were a total of 179 lightships built to serve 116 stations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Great Lakes. Today, fewer than 20 exist.

The Lightship Portsmouth’s first assignment was Smith Island Shoals, Cape Charles, Virginia in 1916. Next was Overfalls, a Delaware Bay station, where it remained from 1926 until 1951, at which time it was assigned to Stonehorse Shoals.

Its final assignment was Cross Rip, southwest of Stonehorse in 1963. It was decommissioned in 1964 after breaking down en route to Boston, after which it was towed from Nantucket to Portsmouth. The ship was repaired over the next three years before being turned into a museum.

In 1989, the ship was designated a National Historic Landmark and now operates as a museum designed to educate visitors about the history of lightships and what life was like for the mariners who served aboard them.

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