There is no doubt a lighthouse provokes a feeling of awe. Personally, the sight of a lighthouse, even on a sunny day, creates the visual in my mind of a beacon of light fracturing darkness. Movies and books often portray a lighthouse with a lone keeper who braves a fierce storm determined to keep the light burning bright; his head bowed as he clutches the wooden railing while crawling the stairs to the light tower battered by raging waves and rain threaten to carry him into the sea. Whatever image captures your pause, the reality is like many icons of the past, these towering beacons built to guide sea travelers through treacherous waters and raging storms have suffered a death of stolen purpose.
While boating up the Chesapeake Bay, we came across many lighthouses. Seeing these neglected buildings I couldn't help but realize that while technology presents many gifts for advancement, we must be aware of what it replaces. I think of computers and the the hand-written letter or children no longer being taught cursive writing and I mourn the loss of these arts. I look at these severely weathered structures and I can't help but mourn our history.
This is the Sandy Point Shoal Light Station, a majestic caisson style lighthouse located on the western end of the Chesapeake Bay and visible from the Bay Bridge.
Built in 1883, this National Historic landmark has fallen victim to
neglect and vandalism. The Coast Guard made efforts to maintain and protect this Empire style station but without the success to have a non-profit group take over its care, it went to auction in 2006 and continues it weather its fate.
The ingenuity of the cantilever outhouse brought a smile to my face!
Another beauty, the Thomas Point Shoal Light Station built in 1825 is the most recognized lighthouse in Maryland and the last unaltered screw-pile lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay. Also on the National Historic Registry, this station is now owned and maintained by the city of Annapolis, Maryland, in conjunction with Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the Annapolis Maritime Museum, as well as the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society. They offer tours three months out of the year for a cost of $80, which I'm sure helps to subsidize heavy cost of upkeep. If you don't want to fork out the bucks or you aren't around in the three months it's open, you can tour the Drum Point Lighthouse located on Solomons Island. You can read about it in my journal post here.
Probably the most neglected form of lighthouse is the Sparkplug lighthouse which sits not on land, but in open water.
The Sharps Island Lighthouse, on the south end of Tilghman Island, MD was originally built on Sharps Island in 1838, but as the island deteriorated, it was relocated.
Pictured on the left is the current light constructed in 1882 with a concrete caisson foundation and a 35-foot cast iron tower. The tower includes an integral dwelling and was manned until 1938.
Damaged by ice in 1977, this little Sparkplug leans about 15° and is in poor condition.
These are but a few of the many lighthouses visible off the shores of Annapolis, Oxford, Windmill Point, Tangier Island, Cob Island, and elsewhere along the Chesapeake. Thankfully, due to renewed public interest the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 as enacted and continues to bring awareness of the need to preserve these iconic keepers of the sea.