Clay Island Lighthouse

In 1831, Congress appropriates $5,900 to construct a lighthouse on Clay Island. Clay Island was located at the entrance to the Wicomico River on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay at the confluence of Nanticoke River, Fishing Bay, and Tangier Sound. The land was purchased at a price of $500 and the deed was signed in August.

John Donahoo was the only person to bid on the project, but his price was $5,400, $200 more than the contract allowed. He eventually dropped his price after the Lighthouse Board threatened to contact Winslow Lewis and signed the contract on August 2, 1832.

Donahoo began construction of the 32-feet by 20’-6”, 1-1/2 story dwelling with a tower on the roof soon after, and it was completed October 1, 1832. The first floor contained a bedroom, parlor, and kitchen, which was accessed by stepping down from the parlor. The second floor had two bedrooms and the upper floor contained the attic. A square tower rose through the center of the building which contained the lantern room which was originally fitted with (10) 15-inch lamps. The light was first exhibited sometime in November 1832.

In 1856, a sixth-order Fresnel lens was installed. In 1866, Franklin lamps are substituted for the original fountain lamps and in 1882, red panels are inserted inside the lantern panes in front of the lights.

By the late 1800s, the area around the lighthouse was quickly eroding and it was suggested to replace the lighthouse with a new structure. In 1892, Sharkfin Shoal Lighthouse is completed, and the Clay Island Lighthouse is discontinued on August 1, 1892. The structure collapsed in 1894.

No photo is available for this lighthouse.

Head Keepers: James L. Waller (at least 1833 – at least 1839), William Tait (at least 1841 – 1843), George Hopkins (1843 – 1844), John S. Evans (1844 – 1845), Garrison Sewell (1845 – 1849), Littleton Harris (1849 – 1853), Theodore Porter (1853 – 1861), James N. Wright (1861 – 1869), John Langrell (1869 – 1873), Thomas F. Cole (1873 – 1892)

(Updated 4/3/2020)




GPS: 38.2340,-75.9700


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