From Thimble Shoal at the mouth of the Bay to Concord Point at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, lighthouses have long marked the channels leading north and south on the Chesapeake. Once manned by an intredid breed of keepers who kept the lamps burning and the fog horns going for days on end, the lighted towers have nearly all been supplanted by modern automated structures. Many of the lighthouses themselves have been removed from their original positions and reestablished as shoreside attractions. The Thomas Point Lighthouse, at the mouth of the South River, remains the only screwpile-style lighthouse still in its original location (the Annapolis Maritime Museum offers regular tours of the structure; www.amaritime.org
). Several Bay beacons that were allowed to stay put are now privately owned and used as family retreats and vacation houses.
Point Lookout Lighthouse, Potomac RiverRegardless of their current status, the lighthouses nonetheless remain a fascinating part of Bay history, engaging the imagination of boaters who pass them by or explore them in their new land-based locations. The Hooper Strait Lighthouse, for example, now stands on Navy Point, at the entrance to the St. Michaels harbor where it marks the location of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. The Seven-Foot Knoll Lighthouse which once watched the mouth of the Patapsco River, is open for tours in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Others remain in place albeit decommissioned: the Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre de Grace, and the Cove Point Lighthouse, north of the Patuxent River are two that are open to visitors on a regular basis.
One lighthouse in particular purports to be haunted. Point Lookout is a long thin peninsula that reaches out from the mouth of the Potomac River. Here Yankee troops established a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in the waning days of the Civil War. The Point Lookout Lighthouse casts its light over scores of cold ragged men who suffered through the cold and wind with little to protect them from the elements. Many died from smallpox and exposure. People familiar with the lighthouse say the soldiers never left completely, and ghostly figures are still visible along the shoreline at night or in the lighthouse itself. Though the deteriorating building is not open to the public on a regular basis, visitors are sometimes welcomed to an open house at Halloween.
Boaters interested in visiting some of the Bay's lighthouses can join in the annual Maryland Lighthouse Challenge when volunteers from the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, in tandem with local governments and lighthouse operators, throw a simultaneous open house and encourage lighthouse buffs to visit as many as they can reach in a single weekend. Although the event was suspended in 2010, organizers expect it to run full tilt in 2011. The chapter website, www.cheslights.org, provides info, directions and approximate driving times between lighthouses. Shuttle service is provided to a handful of hard to reach lights. Participating lighthouses are open extended hours for the Challenge; for safety reasons, not all are open to the public for interior tours. Call or visit their websites for regular hours of operation.
Concord Point Lighthouse
, Susquehanna River, Havre de Grace; 410-939-3213.
. Dockage: in-town marinas
Cove Point Lighthouse and Drum Point Lighthouse
, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons; 410-326-2042, ext. 41,
. Dockage: in-town marinas
Fort Washington Lighthouse
, Potomac River, grounds of Fort Washington Park; 301-763-4600,
. Dockage: closest is Fort Washington Marina on Piscataway Creek; lighthouse is about 2 miles away by shoreline (accessible at low tide), 1 mile by roads
Hooper Strait Lighthouse
, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels; 410-745-2916,
. Dockage: daytime tie-ups permitted at museum dock (fee)
Piney Point Lighthouse
, Potomac River, Lighthouse Museum and Park, Piney Point; 301-769-2222,
. Dockage: museum pier
Point Lookout Lighthouse
, mouth of Potomac River, Point Lookout State Park; 301-872-5688,
. Dockage: short-term tie-ups at camp store pier on Lake Conoy (1-mile hike to lighthouse); the closest marina, Point Lookout on Smith Creek, is about 5 miles away
Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse & Lightship Chesapeake
, Baltimore Maritime Museum, Inner Harbor; 410-396-3453,
. Dockage: Inner Harbor marinas & city docking facilities
Turkey Point Lighthouse
, mouth of Elk River, Elk Neck State Park; 410-287-8170,
. Dockage: none in park's Elk River boat area; best accessed by car from town of North East
(replica), Potomac River, St. Clements Island Museum, Coltons Point; 301-769-2222,
. Dockage: state park dock on island
Sandy Point Shoal Lighthouse
(privately owned), Chesapeake Bay offshore of Sandy Point State Park ; 410-974-2149,
. Dockage: park marina