Thomas Point Land Lighthouse

Thomas Point, located just a few miles from Annapolis, is named after Philip Thomas, one of the earliest Europeans who came to Maryland from England in 1651. With the port of Baltimore becoming increasingly important, Naval Officer William Barney contacted Stephen Pleasonton (of the U.S. Treasury), requesting a lighthouse to mark Thomas Point Shoal (a stretch of land reaching one mile towards the center of the Chesapeake Bay).

Pleasonton approved of a lighthouse being constructed, but rather than building it at the end of the shoal, it would be constructed on shore. Congress then approved $6,500 on May 26, 1824, to construct the thirty-foot-tall tower. The federal government proceeded to purchase a seven-acre tract at the tip of the Thomas Point peninsula from Jeremiah Chase for a price of $529.69.

John Donahoo was selected to build the lighthouse after submitting the lowest bid. Donahoo had experience in multiple construction projects along the northern waterfront, but he had never constructed a lighthouse. In February 1825, the contract was signed, and construction began and was completed within nine months. The design of the tower was simple, a 30-foot-tall conical tower measuring 18 feet in diameter at the base, which tapered to 9 feet at the top. A 20-foot by 24-foot stone keeper’s cottage was constructed at the same time. The cottage had two large rooms with a fireplace. At the top of the tower in the lantern room, thirteen lamps were used to produce a fixed white light, where they were first exhibited in December 1825. There are no photos, but it’s design was very close to the Concord Point LH in Havre de Grace, MD.

Years later, erosion became a major concern. What used to be a seven-acre parcel had been reduced to two acres and the tower was in danger of collapsing into the Bay. Winslow Lewis, a close associate of Pleasonton, was paid $2,000 to tear down the old tower and construct a new one. The new tower was constructed on higher ground behind the keeper’s cottage using material from the original tower. An additional three feet were also added to the top to improve visibility. The second tower was completed in 1840. In 1855, a new fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed to replace the original thirteen lamps.

By 1872, the Port of Baltimore was becoming busier than ever and the lighthouse on Thomas Point was becoming less efficient protecting vessels from the shoal. The condition of the tower and keeper’s quarters was also in bad condition. The Lighthouse Board recognized this and recommended that a new screwpile lighthouse be constructed on the point of the shoal.

The new Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse was completed and lit for the first time on November 20, 1875. The old Thomas Point lighthouse would remain standing until 1894 when it collapsed.

Keepers: Benjamin Mead (at least 1829 – at least 1834), Augustine Sappington (at least 1835 – at least 1839), Hicks Rourke (at least 1841), W.R. Thompson (1842 – 1845), John Hebb (1845 – 1849), Ralph Basil (1849 – 1853), Walter Phelps (1853 – 1857), David V. Myers (1857 – 1861), W.D. Jones (1861 – 1869), Benjamin Ferguson (1869), William Hubbard, Jr. (1869 – 1873), E.H. Erdman (1873), John Wayson (1873 – 1874), George E. Sullivan (1874 – 1875)

1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
2. Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, A Chesapeake Bay Icon, David Gendell, 2020.


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