Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dinner and a Lighthouse: Concord Point, Maryland

Dinner and a Lighthouse: Concord Point, Maryland

In July 2014, Mr. History Girl and I were driving back to New Jersey from our summer trip which included visits to Historic Jamestowne, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Mount Vernon, the Pope-Leighey House, and a few other sites. One last unexpected stop came mere hours before crossing the border back to New Jersey in Havre de Grace, Maryland. In what was just a normal stop at a diner for dinner turned into dinner and a lighthouse! Driving into town, Mr. History Girl saw signs for a lighthouse. He is a huge fan of lighthouses and since were were in the neighborhood, he said we might as well take the opportunity before us and at least stop by. So always up for visiting a new site, I agreed!

The Concord Point Lighthouse is the northernmost lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay, where it meets the Susquehanna River. At thirty-six feet in height, it is by no means a seacoast light but was installed to warn boaters of the currents and shoals near the mouth of the Susquehanna River.

The tower and keeper's house were built in 1827 by John Danahoo, a well-respected builder who constructed twelve Maryland lighthouses. Each building's walls are constructed of Port Deposit granite and the lighthouse measures thirty-one inches thick at the base and eighteen inches at the top.

Nine different head lighthouse keepers kept watch over the light between 1827 and 1918. John O'Neill served as the first keeper from 1827-1838. O'Neill figures not just into the history of the lighthouse, but also that of Havre de Grace. On May 3, 1813, during the War of 1812, Havre de Grace was attacked by British Rear Admiral George Cockburn. Cockburn and his troops burned and plundered the city. John O'Neill, an American Lieutenant, single-handedly manned a cannon to help defend the town as others fled. During the battle, he was wounded, captured by the British, and soon released. His display of courage earned him a presidential appointment as the first keeper of Concord Point Lighthouse.

The lighthouse was originally lit by nine whale oil lamps with sixteen-inch tin reflectors. In 1854, a sixth-order Fresnel lens was installed. It was upgraded to a fifth-order Fresnel lens in 1891. In 1920, the lighthouse was automated. The lighthouse was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1975. Ownership of the property transferred to the City of Havre de Grace. Shortly after, the original fifth-order Fresnel lens mysteriously disappeared. This action prompted calls for the lighthouse to be demolished. Concerned local citizens organized a non-profit group, the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse, to raise funding for the site to ensure its survival. Because of the group, which was established in 1979, the tower was restored in 1981. In 1983, a fifth-order Fresnel lens, on loan from the Coast Guard, was installed in the lantern room. Exterior lighting was also installed to deter future theft.

The lighthouse keeper's house across the street from the lighthouse was the organization's second major project. After the last keeper left in 1918, the property was sold to private owners and became a rental property. In the mid-1930s, it was transformed into a restaurant with later additions including a bar and dance hall. In 1988, the property was purchased by the Maryland Historic Trust and deeded to the City of Havre de Grace. From 1988 to 2007, the exterior was stabilized and modern, non-historic additions were removed, restoring it to its 1884 appearance, when the full second story was added (rather than its 1827 appearance without a full second floor). Between 2002 and 2004, the interior was restored. There was a small hiccup in 2003 when the house was flooded during Hurricane Isabel. Restoration was completed in 2005. The first floor now contains exhibit space and a gift shop. The second floor contains a meeting room and office space for the organization.

The grounds of the keeper's house feature a raised wooden walkway to represent the original wooden walkways which were installed on the property between 1884 and 1890. These walkways were necessary due to the flooding on the surrounding low-lying lands. The area around the lighthouse and keeper's house would flood a few times each year. The walkways allowed the lighthouse keeper to travel from the house to the privy, coal shed, and other outbuildings without getting too wet. In addition to the privy and coal shed, there was also a well and pump house.

The lighthouse and keeper's house continue to be maintained by the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse. The buildings are open seasonally on weekends, April through October. Although the site was not open on that warm July day we found it, it was a great unplanned discovery and the perfect ending to our trip!

Additional photos of my trip to Concord Point Lighthouse on Pinterest

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