Harbor of Refuge

USACE Philadelphia District
Published Feb. 22, 2023
Harbor of Refuge Project Index Map

Harbor of Refuge Project Index Map


APPROPRIATION / PHASE: Operation & Maintenance, General


AUTHORITY: HD 52-112 in 1894, HD 70-15 in 1930 and HD 74-56 in 1935.

LOCATION: The National Harbor of Refuge Breakwater is located in Lewes Harbor off Cape Henlopen in Sussex County, Delaware.

DESCRIPTION: The Harbor of Refuge project provides for the stone breakwater, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse, an historic 1926 structure, is located on the south end of the National Harbor of Refuge Breakwater. The Corps of Engineers built two stone breakwaters in the 19th and early 20th centuries to create a safe refuge near the entrance to the Delaware Bay.  A lighthouse was built in 1926.  The Federal project was originally authorized to protect commercial navigation.  The navigation channel was authorized to provide deep draft landing for vessels such as tugs, and vessels carrying passengers and injured seafarers.  The lighthouse is still used as a navigation aid, and the breakwater provides protection for the Lewes shoreline.  The entire Harbor of Refuge complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Cape May-Lewes Ferry vessels, commercial fishing boats, marine lubricant delivery vessels, Coast guard vessels, and recreational watercraft still actively seek shelter from bad weather at the Harbor of Refuge.  

In the interest of protecting the historic Harbor of Refuge Breakwater itself along with ensuring the protection of the historic lighthouse, the initiative to periodically inspect the wall, especially after hurricane season, is a most crucial issue that is time sensitive. Both the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation and the Delaware State Historical Preservation Office have repeatedly indicated that the deterioration of the government-owned breakwater is impacting valuable historic properties in the Harbor of Refuge. A recent inspection of this site confirms these concerns. The destructive wave action from past storms, such as Hurricane Jose has had an erosive effect on the breakwater especially in the vicinity of the lighthouse. Many of the huge breakwater stones that once formed an interlocking protection wall at the base of the lighthouse have been dislodged. During calendar year 2011, repairs of a near-breach on the north side of the wall, replacement of missing breakwater stone and grouting of voids threatening to undermine the stability of the breakwater where the lighthouse is located were successfully completed. All of this work has experienced significant deterioration and damage by several storms including Hurricane Jose that occurred in September 2017.

USACE is in the process of completing a Major Maintenance Report to assess potential repairs and estimate rough cost estimates. 

PROJECT GOALS: The purpose of this project provides for a breakwater 8,000 feet long; 11 ice piers; and an inner navigation channel and turning basin