90-year-old activist on front lines in fight to protect lighthouse

Havre de Grace plan would put restaurant near historic beacon

November 01, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

When 90-year-old Lucille Beards heard about the proposal to build a restaurant in front of Havre de Grace's historic Concord Point Lighthouse, she weighed in without delay.

"I said to myself, `You have to do something.' "

Her "something" turned out to be chaining herself to the disputed property.

On Sept. 12, Beards affixed herself and her wheelchair to the fence near the lighthouse with 40 pounds of logging chain.

She's been there -- from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. -- every sunny afternoon since, registering her opposition to the restaurant plan.

"It's my way of making a statement to the uninformed citizens, to visitors and to future generations," says Beards, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who moved to Havre de Grace in Harford County seven years ago. Her shackle time isn't down time, though -- she has been collecting signatures and donations from passers-by to help fight the restaurant.

Beards' flamboyant activism is the latest volley in a dispute over an acre-plus spot of picturesque waterfront at the end of Concord Street, where the Susquehanna River joins the Chesapeake Bay.

Opponents of the proposed 150-seat restaurant say it would obscure a piece of national history for private profit. Supporters, including the three-person private partnership seeking to build the restaurant, say stopping the project would hinder Havre de Grace's redevelopment and trample property owners' rights.

The proposed restaurant would support the Maritime Museum and the Decoy Museum, which are near the lighthouse, says Mary Lynn Snyder. Snyder, a local real estate agent, and two other residents formed Conquest Point Limited Partnership and bought the land in 1982 for $385,000. Now, they want to develop it.

"If a restaurant isn't in there somewhere, those museums will die," Snyder says. "When people come to see that stuff, they want something to eat and drink."

Snyder says the partnership made its intentions known when it bought the land.

She says the proposed restaurant is consistent with the lot's existing zoning of residential-business.

Opponents, she says, have not given thought to the economic development such a facility would bring, or to the larger issue of property owners' rights.

"They got all huffy-puffy and bent out of shape," she says of the opposition. "They feel God has appeared on that site. I feel it's a private property rights issue -- they're attempting to totally annihilate our rights."

The land in question is a lush sweep of grass and trees at the south end of town where Concord Street ends. It's frequently used as a park by visitors to the lighthouse, one of Havre de Grace's biggest tourist attractions.

Local experts say the Concord Point Lighthouse is one of the oldest continuously operating lighthouses in the country. It was designed and built in 1827 by John Donohoo, a Havre de Grace resident who built several other lighthouses around the bay.

"The lighthouse is listed on the national historic register -- it's not just a historic thing for our city, but the whole country," says Jane S. Jacksteit, one of the founding members of Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse, which is opposing the restaurant. "It shouldn't be the front porch of a restaurant."

Jacksteit, Beards and others say that putting a restaurant on the greensward in front of the white lighthouse would draw the focus away from the historic beacon and forever change the ambience of a site rich in American history, particularly the War of 1812.

"That's where the British landed -- that spot was where the British barges dropped down out of the British warships and the soldiers marched in," Jacksteit says. "It's a very historic spot and it should remain that way."

Whether it will remains to be seen.

Opponents of the restaurant have crowded City Council meetings and written letters to elected officials and to local newspapers in an effort to pressure the council to take the property.

City officials have said they would be willing to have the restaurant put on another site if one can be found that suits all parties.

"We've been in the negotiating stage for a year, year and a half now," says Mayor Philip J. Barker. "So it's not a done deal. We're still discussing alternate sites."

For now, Snyder maintains that the restaurant will go forward once the partnership gets the necessary building permits.

"Everybody's always known what we were going to do, and now we're going to do it. It's that simple," she says.

Beards says she will continue her daily chaining ("every day unless it's too cold or raining") until the lighthouse and the land around it have been preserved.

"I want to protect the history and the heritage -- not just of Havre de Grace but all over America," she says. "We give up our history for development. Once it's gone, it's gone."

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