- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Since 1875, Thomas Point Lighthouse has stood watch at the mouth of the South River, warning generations of sailors away from the treacherous shoals that extend more than a mile into the Chesapeake Bay and welcoming them to the safety of the Annapolis harbor.

The lighthouse — with its distinctive hexagonal, red-roofed cottage — is the last of its kind, the only screw-pile structure in the nation still in use at its original location, said Henry Gonzalez, vice president of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.

“It is an icon for pretty much everyone who loves the Chesapeake Bay,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

To ensure that it will continue to serve as an operating lighthouse, the Coast Guard has transferred ownership to the city of Annapolis, which will work with two private partners to restore the structure and open it to tours.

Thomas Point, like other screw-pile lighthouses, sits atop iron pilings that Mr. Gonzalez said were literally screwed into the sandy bay bottom. A deck was built on top of the pilings, and the cottage where lighthouse keepers once lived rests on the deck.

“It’s a decent size, about the size of a modest home,” said Robert Agee, an aide to Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer.

A kitchen and living area were on the main floor, and bedrooms were on the second floor, he said. From there, narrow, winding stairs provide access to a small third level where the light is located.

For most of it existence, lighthouse keepers were on duty 24 hours a day to make sure the light was burning. At times, a small family would live in the cottage, using a boat to travel occasionally to the mainland and to bring supplies in for the light keepers.

Even though the lighthouse is only a little more than a mile from land, early residents “were out there on an island,” Mr. Agee said.

The large deck surrounding the cottage was used to store coal and other supplies. At times, residents “kept a cow there for milk,” Mr. Agee said.

In the early years, the lighthouse was staffed by civilians who were hired to keep the light on. Later, Coast Guard personnel took over the duty. In 1986, an automated, solar-powered light was installed, and the era of lighthouse keepers on the Chesapeake Bay came to an end.

The Annapolis Maritime Museum and the Chesapeake Bay chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society will jointly operate Thomas Point as a museum and a working lighthouse. About $300,000 will be needed to repair and restore the lighthouse, with the work expected to take about five years, Mr. Gonzalez said.

Buck Buchanan, president of the museum, said the lighthouse will be open to the public for the first time as a result of the transfer of ownership from the Coast Guard to the city.

“We are going to be able to take people out there, not only tell them the story of the lighthouse, but show it to them, get them inside. That’s going to be really neat,” he said.

Boat trips to the lighthouse will leave from the museum, which is located in the Eastport section of Annapolis. While renovations and repairs will continue for some time, Mr. Buchanan said he hopes that tours will begin next spring. The lighthouse is in good condition, although a small platform used to tie up boats was destroyed by Tropical Storm Isabel and must be rebuilt.

The museum, which was badly damaged by Isabel, will be repaired and will include a display on the history of the lighthouse when it reopens, possibly as early as the first of the year, Mr. Buchanan said.

“We will have interactive displays and a virtual tour of the lighthouse,” he said.

Ownership of the lighthouse was transferred May 1 to Annapolis under a program initiated in 2000 to turn over control of more than 300 lighthouses nationally to state or local governments, nonprofit organizations and community groups.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide