The word lighthouse brings a certain image to mind – at least to my mind. I picture a tall cylindrical tower perched on a rocky cliff far above a stormy sea. From its very top, a beacon flashes forth guiding, ever guiding seagoing vessels to safety.
However, my mental picture is altered since, by now, Papa and I have observed more than 30 lighthouses in our empty nest travels. Some of those structures were located ocean-side, but others have stood watch on rivers, lakes, and bays. And some of those lighthouses certainly didn’t fit the description I pictured.
When we traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, and the eastern side of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay a couple of years ago, we noticed three lighthouses, two of which didn’t match that distinct lighthouse representation stowed away in my mind.
After touring nearby Fort McHenry in the morning, our next stop was the Inner Harbor on a hot, steamy, and thunderstorm-filled summer afternoon. Nevertheless, we managed to sightsee in the harbor and decided to end the day by taking a harbor cruise.
We didn’t purposefully intend to visit lighthouses during our trip because the idea of photographing them hadn’t yet appealed to me and we had other sightseeing plans already made. But during the cruise, I spotted what my mind determined was a lighthouse and took a photo of it (pictured above).
Actually, that structure proved to be a replica of the original 30-foot whitewashed brick Lazaretto Point Light, which had been erected in 1831 at the entrance of the Baltimore harbor and demolished in 1926. The current replica, built using original blueprints of the old lighthouse to maintain accuracy, was constructed in 1985 by a shipping company close to where the original tower existed.
The fact that the current Lazaretto Point’s a replica may not be that interesting, but some noteworthy anecdotes exist about the old, original lighthouse that once guided ships in and out of the Baltimore harbor.
Located across from Fort McHenry, the parcel of land where the lighthouse stood was once the site of a quarantine hospital housing immigrants who arrived in the country with contagious diseases.
The word lazaretto, derived from the Italian language, meant such a hospital and so that area became known as Lazaretto Point. Eventually, the hospital closed its doors, but since the government still owned the land, Lazaretto Point became an ideal place to construct a lighthouse.
Other fascinating facts connect famous writer Edgar Allen Poe to this particular lighthouse. Poe wrote a short story simply titled “The Lighthouse,” which he never finished, and supposedly the story was inspired by the Lazaretto tower.
Also, Poe apparently placed an ad in a local newspaper not long after the lighthouse was completed that claimed someone would fly from the tallest building at the time in the U.S. to Lazaretto Lighthouse on April 1. What actually ensued while a throng of people waited for such an event? It appeared that they had fallen for an April Fool’s Day joke by Baltimore’s native son.
The original lighthouse became the first one situated on the Chesapeake to receive electricity in 1914 but that did not prevent the tower from succumbing to demise. Today the Lazaretto Point Light replica merely represents a part of Baltimore history. While it does contain a light, the structure is not an active navigation aid.
Also while cruising around Baltimore’s harbor, we had a nice view of another structure that didn’t fit the image of lighthouse but actually was such a structure – the Seven Foot Knoll Light.
This squat and unusual looking structure is called a screw-pile lighthouse because it was built on special iron pilings with screws that could be twisted diagonally into the bottom of the bay at a depth of 10 feet or more, which gave the lighthouse stability, especially needed in icy winters.
Seven Foot Knoll was actually the second such lighthouse built on the Chesapeake Bay and the first of its kind erected in Maryland. Constructed in 1855, it carries the distinction of being the oldest surviving screw-pile in that state.
Originally constructed at the mouth of the Patapsco River atop a knoll in the bay called Seven Foot Knoll, this historical, circular structure is made entirely of iron and is noted for its red color.
There’s also a tale associated with this lighthouse. In 1933, one of the lighthouse keepers received a Congressional medal for heroism for single-handedly rescuing a foundering tugboat crew during a raging storm.
However, with no keepers assigned there after becoming automated in 1948, the structure became damaged due to corrosion and vandalism. By 1987, a new navigational aid replaced the lighthouse.
Ownership of the original Seven Foot Knoll then was transferred to the city of Baltimore and the screw-pile relocated by barge the next year to Pier 5 at the city’s Inner Harbor. There it now stands on its own legs as a museum, maintained by the Living Classrooms Foundations. For an admission fee, visitors may tour it daily from spring until fall and on weekends only in winter.
After leaving Baltimore, Papa and I toured Annapolis and then headed to the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay. One of our destinations was St. Michaels, Maryland where we planned to visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Little did we know that another screw-pile lighthouse, Hooper Strait Lighthouse, was an exhibit of the museum, and had been relocated from its original location to St. Michaels.
Known as one of only four Chesapeake Bay screw-pile lighthouses still surviving out of 40 that were built in Maryland, Hooper Strait Lighthouse is the second structure that once was situated in Hooper Strait.
The first one, constructed in 1867 to guide boats passing through shallow and dangerous shoals in the mile-wide strait connecting the Chesapeake Bay with Tangier Sound, was destroyed 10 years later by ice. In 1879, the second one, a hexagonal dwelling, designed in a cottage-style and painted white with a black lantern on top, was constructed elsewhere and transported by boat to the site.
Some sad events occurred in this particular lighthouse. As one can imagine, being a lighthouse keeper could be a dangerous job and several of Hooper’s Strait keepers suffered tragedy.
When the original structure was destroyed by ice, the then keeper, frostbitten, had to be rescued. Later, another keeper fell off the lighthouse, drowned, and his body was found drifting in the strait. Still another keeper was found dead in the keeper’s quarters under some mysterious circumstances.
By 1954, however, Hooper Strait Lighthouse was fully automated and no longer required a keeper and as happened so often afterwards, it fell victim to decay and vandalism.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s plans to demolish this screw-pile structure halted when the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum came to its rescue. Eventually, the 42-ton lighthouse was relocated in 1966 from its pilings onto a barge and transported 40 miles to its current location at Navy Point in St. Michaels.
Today the lighthouse is a popular permanent exhibit at the museum, which is now re-opened to the public after being closed due to the pandemic. Only the first floor of the lighthouse is accessible at this time however.
Hopefully in the near future, anther experience once offered will be resumed. That experience included dinner, a lighthouse tour, opportunities to stand watch and fulfil daily chores as a keeper that were typical of a light station during the 19th century, and ended with an overnight stay inside the lighthouse.
The various lighthouses Papa and I have visited each tell us a story. Maybe that’s why I have found viewing, photographing, and learning their history to be so enjoyable.
However they are designed, whatever materials they’re constructed from, and wherever they stand, whether it’s beside ocean, lake, river, or bay, they serve as a guiding light and offer a look back at some interesting historical stories.
I do hope my readers are finding my Tuesday Tour of lighthouses interesting. I have more pictures stored in my photo cache to share with you in the next few weeks.
I’ll tempt you with this enticement to keep following these posts – the best is yet to come, I’m saving the best for last!
You’ll just have to come back again for…the rest of the story.
“Lighthouses are not just stone, brick, metal, and glass. There’s a human story at every lighthouse; that’s the story I want to tell.” ~Elinor DeWire