Lighthouse at Thomas Point proposed as national landmark U.S. Park Service seeks historical designation for last-of-its-kind site

October 09, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

For more than a century, the sight of Thomas Point Shoals Lighthouse -- a red-roofed cottage screwed atop metal pilings -- has warned sailors and watermen of dangerous shoals and welcomed them back to Annapolis.

Sighting the hexagonal lighthouse at the mouth of the South River is, for homeward-bound boaters, like seeing mom standing on the front porch -- with cookies.

Now the National Park Service wants to share the lighthouse with the rest of the nation by bestowing its most coveted title: National Historic Landmark.

Researchers from the park service have been visiting properties across the country that have contributed to the nation's maritime history. The park service chose Thomas Point because it is the last "screw-pile" lighthouse in operation.

This week, the lighthouse passed the first test en route to landmark status when a National Parks System committee determined it met all the criteria. An advisory board's support is needed, and final approval would come from the secretary of the interior, a position held by Bruce Babbitt. The process could take a year.

Screw-pile lighthouses, built over a brief period, were placed atop a spider web of steel pilings screwed into the ocean or bay FTC floor. Thomas Point, built in 1875 and now owned by the Coast Guard, was the last manned lighthouse on the Chesapeake until its beacon was automated in 1986. Other Maryland screw-pile lighthouses have been moved ashore or to museums.

The Coast Guard had announced plans in the early 1980s to demolish the lighthouse but scuttled them after public outcry and the creation of the Lighthouse Foundation Inc.

"Anybody who sails the Chesapeake out of Annapolis, it literally becomes what you sight on to make sure you're heading in the right direction," said Rodney Little, director of the Maryland Historic Trust and the state's historic preservation officer, who led the effort nearly 20 years ago to save the lighthouse from demolition.

"It is also without question the most photographed lighthouse in Maryland. It really is almost an unofficial symbol of the state," Little said.

Though six lighthouses in other states have been named landmarks, including the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on North Carolina's Outer Banks, Thomas Point would be the first lighthouse in Maryland to gain such status.

Maryland has more than 50 national historic landmarks, including the Naval Academy, the Annapolis Historic District and, an oddity, the Carroll County pumpkin patch where ex-Communist Whitaker Chambers retrieved secret microfilm he had hidden inside pumpkins in support of accusations of espionage before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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