One of the Chesapeake Bay‘s most famous and historic landmarks (and watermarks) are its many, stunning lighthouses. Not all lighthouse are still members of the U. S. Coast Guard‘s array of Aids to Navigation, however, they still stand tall as both reminders and tributes to the long and glorious history of the United States Lighthouse Service which ultimately formed a key segment of the U. S. Coast Guard.
In total, over their entire history, there have been hundreds of lighthouses and key range lights for the Chesapeake Bay (Maryland and Virginia). Not all of these lights remain; however, the key structures do and stand tall in remembrance of duties and rescues of the past. The first lighthouse of the bay, Cape Henry (old) lighthouse, is the oldest lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay, and the third oldest in the United States. It was constructed in 1791 and still stands its tall 164 feet to this day. Captain John Smith’s mapping of the Chesapeake Bay helped influence the location of the Cape Henry light. The image on the left is the Cape Henry (old) lighthouse.
Thomas Point Shoal light, shown above, was constructed in 1875. It remained on active duty until 1972 when the U. S. Coast Guard begin to consider the decomissioning of 100 lighthouses in the United States. Maryland lighthouse lovers and historians came to the rescue to keep Thomas Point as a standing symbol of “Chessies lights.”
All of the lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay carry long and endearing histories that moves both residents and tourists to continually strive to make sure the lights are maintained and that they are available for all to visit and revere.
During this entire blog series on My Chessie Affair we will include discussion of individual and groups of lights as they relate to the geography and social history of the bay. Therefore, we will not be repeating here a long discussion about each of the lights. If, however, you are eager to learn more we have included here a list of references (with ISBN numbers) that you should be able to find in most public libraries. We encourage you to take time to learn more about the lighthouses because you will also be learning a great deal about the early history of these United States and especially the settlement of the Chesapeake Bay.
Here are the references:
- 1994 Inventory of Historic Light Stations – U.S. Dept. of Interior ISBN 0-16-045100-0
- America’s Lighthouses – An Illustrated History ISBN 0-486-25576-X
- Bay Beacons ISBN 1-885457-07-3
- Lighting The Bay ISBN 0-87033-466-2
- Southern Lighthouses ISBN 0-87106-548-7
- The Lighthouses of the Chesapeake ISBN 0-8018-1548-7
Lighthouses are structures, and without the human element that served to maintain and sustain them, they would be just lonely symbols of a time past. What keeps them alive in our minds and hearts are all the human stories that are irrevocably attached to them. A visit to any of Chessie’s lights will imbue you with a deep sense of service, heroism and the infectious wooing of our oceans, bays, rivers, and lakes. If you choose to watch the video below you will definitely learn of that human presence that makes it all so memorable.
Thomas Point Light: http://tinyurl.com/3q6btjx
Cape Henry (old) Light: http://tinyurl.com/42x8s9b
The Ode included with the Thomas Point image is by the author, Waddell Robey. Semper Paratus is the USCG motto: “Always Ready”