Pooles Island lighthouse put on U.S. register Heritage: Pooles Island lighthouse, built in 1825, is the oldest standing lighthouse in Maryland and one of 32 remaining on the Chesapeake Bay.

October 26, 1997|By Sunny Kaplan | Sunny Kaplan,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE Sun staff writer Robert A. Erlandson contributed to this article.

ABERDEEN -- Pooles Island Lighthouse, built in 1825, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Pooles Island is the oldest standing lighthouse in Maryland and one of 32 remaining on the Chesapeake Bay.

The wooded island lies within the restricted boundaries of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Military Reservation, which is on the northwest side of the upper Chesapeake Bay in Harford County.

Even after restoration, the lighthouse will not become a tourist attraction - except from a distance - because of the dangers of unexploded ordnance.

The federal government bought the island in 1917 for the establishment of APG's Edgewood Arsenal and used it until 1970 as an artillery target zone. It is still restricted. APG boats patrol the surrounding waters and "No Trespassing" signs on the driftwood-strewn beach warn of unexploded ordnance.

The heavily overgrown island will remain an "inadvertent wildlife sanctuary" for bald eagles, ospreys, herons and deer that crossed when the bay was frozen, said Terri Kaltenbacher, project manager for Aberdeen Proving Ground's directorate of safety, health and environment.

The lighthouse, closed since 1939, is significant for its place in Maryland maritime history and for its design and construction, said architectural historian Pat Giglio.

"By placing it on the register ... it has drawn a greater attention to it and gave it a larger recognition," Giglio said.

Originally named Powell's Island by Capt. John Smith on his map of his 1608 exploration of the Chesapeake, Pooles Island lies about 1.5 miles off Robins Point, at the tip of Edgewood Peninsula, part of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Parts of Pooles Island were farmed in the early 19th century, and the British sacked the place during the War of 1812. Beginning in 1872, Pooles Island became famous as a peach orchard.

The beacon, on the northwest tip of the 280-acre island, was tended by a lighthouse keeper from 1825 until 1917, when the signal was automated. An 1865 bay chart noted that the light from the nine oil lamps was visible for more than 11 miles.

The 40-foot lighthouse, 20 feet from the water's edge, is a stone conical tower topped by a cast-iron lantern. The base measures 18 feet in diameter and the original mahogany door is still in place.

Archival documents show that the lighthouse was part of a complex that included a lightkeeper's residence, boathouse and barn. The buildings were painted white and were surrounded by a white picket fence. None of the latter structures remains.

Perched on the foreshore, in front of the lighthouse, is another relic, one of the two spidery observation towers erected on Pooles Island in 1940 in anticipation of U.S. entry into World War II, to guard against German U-boats sneaking up the bay to spy on the proving ground.

The National Register is the official list of the country's properties that are significant because of their historical, architectural or cultural value.

Registered properties are eligible for federal tax incentives and other preservation assistance. The designation often gives property increased value and spurs local business and employment opportunities, according to the National Park Service.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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