The Maryland Commission to Save the Lighthouses will receive $200,000 in U.S. Coast Guard funds to assess the conditions of about a third of the Chesapeake Bay's remaining lighthouses and their restoration needs.
The purpose of the commission, established in 1989 by the state legislature, is to develop an inventory of surviving Chesapeake Bay lighthouses and ascertain their preservation needs.
But its chairman, Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-Anne Arundel, said that the commission lacked money to do the job and requested financial help from the federal government.
He said he was assisted in obtaining the money by Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, a member of his commission who sits on the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries.
Mr. Huff said there are 27 surviving lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries -- down from more than 100 at the turn of the century.
According to a pamphlet on Maryland lighthouses distributed by the commission, automation played a big role in the dwindling numbers.
"Automated lights began replacing the lighthouse keeper in the existing structures shortly after the last lighthouse was built in 1910," the pamphlet notes.
"Many of the historic buildings have been dismantled by the Coast Guard since the 1960s and replaced by small automatic beacons. These beacons are accurate navigational aids and are inexpensive to maintain," it continues.
But the beacons lack the architecture, history and even romance of the lighthouse -- an appeal that has resulted in some being taken over by private organizations or being operated as museums.
About half of the surviving lighthouses are built over the water, and the $200,000 will pay for engineering studies of the conditions underwater of eight of them, Mr. Huff said.
For the future, Mr. Huff was hopeful that Maryland Historical Trust might take over the ownership of some of the lighthouses or that other organizations might be found to maintain the structures.
"The existing highly-significant, historic structures are in varying states of repair and disrepair, and their future is uncertain," said Mrs. Bentley, a former Federal Maritime Commission chairman and ex-maritime editor of The Sun.
She expressed hope that the money would help preserve the lighthouses that "have served Maryland mariners so well in the past."