Craighill Channel Lower Range Rear Lighthouse


The excavation of Baltimore Harbor in the early 1800s was one of the greatest achievements of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, boosting Baltimore into one of the largest ports in the United States. Craighill Channel, named after William Price Craighill, (an Army engineer, and a longtime member of the Lighthouse Board), was used by ships traveling from the south in the Chesapeake Bay, then into the Brewerton Channel section, leading through the Patapsco River up to Baltimore Harbor.

Realizing the importance of the port of Baltimore and the need to accommodate larger vessels, Congress appropriated $50,000 in 1870 to widen Craighill Channel from 169 feet to 500 feet and deepen it from 21 feet to 22 feet. However, with no lights, the channel was worthless at night. In 1871, the Lighthouse Board noted: “this channel has the advantage of saving about five miles in distance to large vessels bound to Baltimore from the lower bay”. Original plans only called for two lower range lights, but two sets of range lights were eventually constructed, forming an upper and lower range of lights. Used in pairs, each structure supports lights located at different heights. When the two lights are aligned, you know you are in the channel.

In 1872, Congress appropriated $45,000 to build the two lower-range lights, however, due to challenges in the design of the foundations at both locations, the total cost would rise to $110,000. Work on the lower front light began in 1873. The design was initially proposed to be a screwpile structure, but the Lighthouse Board was concerned about possible damage to the structure from ice. That idea was abandoned, and it was decided to build “a tubular foundation of cast iron,” making it the first caisson-style lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay.

While construction of the lower front light was taking place, construction also began on the lower rear light. The site for the lower rear light needed to be aligned perfectly with the front light, located 2.4 miles to the south. However, according to the Lighthouse Board, “a careful examination showed that the soil was firm, hard sand, to a depth of two feet. Below this was a thick layer of sand and mud, mixed with stones, then soft mud to a depth of fifteen feet.” Because of these findings, a pile and grillage foundation would need to be constructed to support the piers where the dwelling and tower would sit. In the end, the total cost for both range lights was $110,000.

In 1873, a 60-foot by 60-foot cofferdam was constructed using two rows of sheet piling 18 inches apart and filling the space in between with clay. The water was then pumped out of the enclosure, and foundation piles were driven and then cut off. By June 1873, the framework was complete and the nine piers supporting the lighthouse structure were complete by August.

The rear light is an odd structure, very different from most other lights in the region. Completed in 1875, it resembles a four-sided open pyramid with a square column in the middle, enclosing a stairway leading up to the watch room and lantern room, both of which were surrounded by a square deck. A one-and-one-half-story eight-room wooden keeper’s dwelling with dormer windows sat inside the pyramid’s base. The lantern room was equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel range lens producing a fixed white light. The focal length is 105 feet above the bay, making it the tallest lighthouse in Maryland. The lower portion of the lighthouse was painted white, while the upper portion was painted brown.

In 1923, the rear light was changed to acetylene and automated. The dwelling remained vacant until 1928 when it was rented to James McClurg until the dwelling was dismantled and removed in 1938. The light was electrified in 1929, and in 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard removed the Fresnel lens from the lighthouse. Both the front and rear lighthouses remain an active aid to navigation.

This lighthouse is the tallest Maryland lighthouse. The lighthouse is currently on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List.

Located in the Bay and the entrance to the Patapsco River just east of Ramona Beach about 3 miles northeast of Fort Howard. Accessible only by boat. Views from Ramona Beach or from North Point State Park. Tower closed to the public.

Head Keepers: Henry Buckless (1873 – 1874), J.W. McDonald (1874 – 1887), Bernhard Berends (1887 – 1902), William K. Slacum (1902 – 1908), Harry H. Wills (1908 – 1923).

Assistant Keepers: Uriah R. Nichols (1873 – 1874), Robert Williams (1874 – at least 1917), Robert Kuhn (at least 1919), William W. Bozman ( – 1921), Joseph D. Barnett (1921 – 1922), John M. Stowe (1922 – 1923).

(Updated 4/15/2019)




GPS: 39.2291,-76.3942


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