Thomas Point Lighthouse.Then and Now
The Thomas Point Lighthouse we know today is not the original structure. In 1824, the U.S. Congress appropriated $6500 for the construction of a land-based light station at the tip of Thomas Point. The original, round tower was 30 feet tall, 18 feet at the base narrowing to 9 feet in diameter at the top. The tower was 100 feet from the water’s edge but difficult weather and erosion proved too much for the structure. By 1838, when all attempts to slow the creeping shore had failed, an auditor for the U.S.Treasury hired Winslow Lewis to relocate and rebuild the tower using the original materials. He built it three feet higher in order to clear the keeper’s residence roof —all for $2000.
The Lighthouse Board of 1872 then requested funding for a new ‘screwpile’ light station out on the Thomas Point Shoal. Thus was born the ‘Light Station’ we have today. The well-documented ‘screwpile’ foundations were patented by Englishman Alexander Mitchell in the 1830s. As a mathematician/engineer, Mitchell, though blind at age 20, worked with his son to develop a structure that would work with the force of the water rather than against it. The extended base would enter the soil as a screw and displaced matter would wrap back around it, thus providing a structure that would resist downward pressure or upward strain.
The Lighthouse Board’s prediction that the destructive winter ice would be a problem proved true, because in 1877 the new lighthouse lens toppled. The shoreline lighthouse was relit while repairs were made. Engineers decided to add protection with a triangle of iron beams secured to the northeast corner of the wide footprint, and in 1886 more measures were taken to strengthen the lighthouse by wrapping the perimeter with riprap stone.
The lighting element was upgraded from oil wick to incandescent oil vapor in 1913 and with the installation of a generator in 1933, the light became electric! The light formula was a two-second flash with a thirteen second pause. The accompanying fog signal (diaphone) was a two-second blast every thirteen seconds
The U.S. Coast Guard announced plans to demolish the lighthouse in the 1970s, but Annapolis was not to be denied its cherished water symbol. Both public and private citizens joined forces and the Lighthouse Foundation Inc. was formed. Thomas Point was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. In 1986, the Coast Guard installed a complete automating system at a cost of $172K, reducing the operating cost from $38K to $5000 a year. Additionally, new solar powered lenses were installed in 1986, their white light visible for almost 12 miles; the red sectors are seen at nine miles. The solar powered fog signal can be heard for a half a mile.
The Coast Guard kept the lighthouse painted and safe until 2004 when an unique partnership was formed with the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the City of Annapolis, the U.S.Lighthouse Society with the Chesapeake Chapter, the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Anne Arundel County. The strong coalition will maintain and preserve this beloved landmark while cooperating with the Coast Guard for navigational guidance.
Thomas Point Shoal Light Station is our beacon from the past and a bright light into the future, once again making Annapolitans very illuminated!