USCGC LILAC (WAGL-227)
Class: Lighthouse Tender, Buoy Tender
Length: 173 feet, 4 inches
Address for Visiting:
Laid down at the end of the tenure of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Lilac transferred to the Coast Guard when it was took over the Lighthouse Service in 1939. Between 1892 and 1939 thirty-three of these lighthouse tenders were built, most ranging in length from 164 to 174 feet.
She was assigned to the Fourth Lighthouse District, which covered the Delaware River from Trenton, New Jersey south to the mouth of Delaware Bay, replacing the tender Iris of 1899. Her base was located in Edgemoor, Delaware, just north of Wilmington until 1948, when it was shifted to Gloucester, New Jersey, just below Philadelphia.
In addition to maintaining the aids to navigation in the Fourth Lighthouse District, the Lilac was involved in rescue and fire fighting efforts during a number of marine disasters. During abnormal ice conditions in the winter of 1935-36, the tenders Lilac and Violet were sent into the Lower Delaware Bay to evacuate the keepers on endangered offshore lighthouses. The Lilac was on hand from the 15th to the 17th of May 1952 following the collision of the cargo ship Barbara Lykes and the coastal tanker F. L. Hayes. The F. L. Hayes sank on fire in the center of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The Lilac was involved again from the 6th to the 12th of June 1953 following the spectacular collision and fire of the tankers Phoenix and Pan Massachusetts at the Delaware Bay end of the Canal. The following month she spent two days fighting a fire on the tanker Pan Georgia in the Christina River near Wilmington.
The Lilac was decommissioned on 3 February 1972, by which time she was the last steam-powered lighthouse or buoy tender in the Coast Guard fleet. From 1972-1984 she was used by the Seafarers International Union as a stationary training facility for union members upgrading within the non-officer positions in bridge or engine room. In 1984 the Lilac was retired from this work and turned over to the Atlantic Towing Corporation of Norfolk, Virginia. On 3 April 1985 she was sold to Henry A. Houck, operator of a salvage yard on the James River near Richmond, Virginia. She remained virtually unaltered, retaining most of her original fittings and equipment, through the period at Piney Point and the period in the salvage yard, where she was primarily used as office space.
She was acquired by the The Lilac Preservation Project in 2003. The Lilac Preservation Project is a group of New Yorkers dedicated to restoring the Lilac to operating condition, both because of her importance as the last largely intact steam lighthouse tender, and again to have an operating steam vessel based in New York Harbor. Please contact us for public visitation due to ongoing restoration work.
Berthed at Lighthouse Service Depot in Delaware in early 1930s.
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