For more than 11,000 years, humans have lived in the Chesapeake Bay region. And for more than two hundred years, lighthouses have helped them navigate the waters of the Bay. Since the first lighthouse was placed at Cape Henry in 1792, 74 lighthouses have dotted the shores of the watershed, guiding wooden vessels, steam-powered boats and cargo ships through the Bay’s channels and around its obstacles. Today, more than 30 of these lighthouses still stand—and 23 still aid navigation. To whet your appetite for the region’s maritime history, here are 11 lighthouses in the watershed today.
1. Turkey Point. Located in Cecil County, Maryland, the Turkey Point lighthouse marks the point where the Elk and Northeast rivers enter the Chesapeake Bay. At 38 feet high, the conical structure was built by Havre de Grace resident John Donohoo in 1833. Between 1928 and 1947, the light was maintained by Fannie Salter, America’s last civilian female lighthouse keeper. The light was automated in 1947, deactivated in 2000 and re-lit two years later as a private aid to navigation. In 2006, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took ownership of the light, and it is estimated that 40,000 tourists visit the signature landmark of Elk Neck State Park each year. The lighthouse is open to visitors from April through November.
2. Sandy Point Shoal. The first lighthouse to stand in this location—an onshore brick tower built in 1858—was replaced in 1883 with the structure that stands today. Located offshore of Sandy Point State Park and about 1.5 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the eight-sided, red brick tower is owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. Standing in 5 to 7 feet of water, the structure marks the shoals at Sandy Point. It was electrified in 1929 and automated in 1963.
3. Sharps Island. The 900-acre island that gave this lighthouse its name in 1838 disappeared shortly after the structure was built, succumbing to wind, waves and erosion. In 1866, the original light was replaced with a screwpile structure, which was pulled from its foundation by floating ice fields just 15 years later. A caisson structure was placed on the site in 1882, and while it still stands today, it did suffer an ice-induced tilt in 1976. Located offshore of Tilghman Island, the light marks the entrance to the Choptank River and the shoals off Poplar Island and Black Walnut Point.
4. Bloody Point Bar. Located off the southern tip of Kent Island, this rust brown, iron structure was built in 1882 and marks the entrance to Eastern Bay. Just one year after its construction, severe storms pulled sand out from under the structure’s northwest side, causing a severe tilt. In 1885, 760 tons of stone were piled at the lighthouse’s base, which have kept it upright to this day. In 1960, an electrical fire destroyed the keeper’s quarters and the lens. Ever since, the light has been automated.
5. Cove Point. Built in 1828 by John Donohoo, the Cove Point lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Maryland. The conical brick tower marks the entrance to the Patuxent River, and in October of 2000 it and its keeper’s house were transferred to the Calvert Marine Museum. Here, visitors can tour the light from May through September and rent out the renovated dwelling for vacations and special events. Because the light is still an active aid to navigation, the U.S. Coast Guard remains responsible for its operation.
6. Drum Point. Like Cove Point, the Drum Point lighthouse sits at the Calvert Marine Museum, where it is open to the public year-round. Built in 1883, the light was decommissioned in 1962; in 1975, it was moved from the mouth of the Patuxent River to its present spot along the museum’s waterfront. The hexagonal wooden structure on top of a wrought-iron screwpile base is one of three remaining lighthouses built in this style, from the 45 that once served the Chesapeake Bay.
7. Point Lookout. Built by John Donohoo in 1830, the Point Lookout lighthouse marks the north entrance to the Potomac River. Just three decades after the light’s construction, the point was transformed by the Civil War. In 1862, the point became home to a Civil War hospital; soon after, a camp was built that would come to hold 20,000 prisoners of war. Deactivated in 1965, the light was turned over to the U.S. Navy before becoming part of Point Lookout State Park in 2006. Said to be one of the most haunted lighthouses in America, members of the Point Lookout Preservation Society hold paranormal investigations to raise funds and offer tours of the light from April through November.
8. Point No Point. The Point No Point lighthouse sits six miles north of the Point Lookout lighthouse and the entrance of the Potomac River. While construction began in 1901, it was not completed until 1904. During a storm in 1903, a temporary construction pier collapsed and winds pushed the caisson structure 40 miles south to the Rappahannock River. In 1904, ice floes dislodged a second construction pier, delaying progress once again. Today, a two-story white tower sits atop a red, cast-iron base. Automated in 1938 and converted to unmanned operation in 1962, the light remains an active aid to navigation.
9. Cape Charles. Marking the northern side of the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, the original Cape Charles lighthouse was built in 1828, but destroyed during the Civil War. A 150-foot brick replacement was built in 1864, but succumbed to floods and shoreline erosion about three decades later. The fully automated, 191-foot, cast-iron skeleton tower that stands today was erected in 1895, and is the second tallest lighthouse in the United States.
10. Wolf Trap. The first lighthouse to mark the shoals of Wolf Trap near the mouth of the Rappahannock River was built in 1870 to replace the lightships that had been in service here since 1821. In 1893, ice floes dislodged the light from its foundation. A replacement was built in 1894; its red, octagonal tower stands 52 feet tall.
11. Chesapeake Light. Built in 1965 to replace the lightship Chesapeake, the Chesapeake Light Station marks the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, which has been lighted for mariners since 1933. The blue “Texas tower” sits on steel piles and resembles an oil drilling platform; a rooftop landing pad allows for helicopter access. Automated in 1980, the U.S. Coast Guard considered demolishing the station in 2004, but because it was still structurally sound, it remains an active aid to navigation.
Fall brings with it cooler weather and a rainbow of red, orange and yellow foliage, making it the perfect time to get outside for a hike.
From the coastal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay to the rocky hills of the Appalachian Mountains, scenic vistas and mountaintops await.
Tip: To plan your outing, find out when "peak fall foliage" occurs in your region with this map from the Weather Channel.
Here are some of our favorite sites to take in the changing colors of fall:
1. Old Rag Mountain Hike, Shenandoah National Park, Va. (7 miles)
Image courtesy David Fulmer/Flickr
Be prepared for a challenging rock scramble and a crowd of tourists, but know that it will all be worth it in the end. Some consider this hike to have the best panoramic vistas in Northern Virginia, and it remains one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic.
2. Loudoun Heights Trails, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, W.Va. (7.5 miles)
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is located along the C&O Canal—a hot spot for those looking to find fall foliage. But if you're tired of the canal's flat views as it runs along the Potomac River, check out the trails in Loudon Heights. It may be an uphill battle, but you'll find yourself overlooking the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers from what seems to be the highest point around. This is certainly a good hike for a cool fall day (this blogger took to the trails in the heat of summer and was drained!). Be sure to grab ice cream in town afterwards!
3. Flat Top Hike, Peaks of Otter Trails, Bedford, Va. (3.5 miles)
Image courtesy Jim Liestman/Flickr
The Peaks of Otter are three mountain peaks that overlook the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. While a hike to Sharp Top is an intriguing one with stunning views, a hike to Flat Top promises to be less crowded. Keep in mind, there are many other trails and lakes near the Peaks of Otter worth exploring!
4. Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock Loop, Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, Md. (5 miles)
Image courtesy TrailVoice/Flickr
Give yourself plenty of time to take in the unique rock formations and two outstanding viewpoints found along this hardwood forest trail. If you're not up for a long hike, visit the park's more accessible viewpoints and make a stop at the nearby Cunningham Falls State Park to see a scenic waterfall just below the mountains.
5. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail, Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. (184 miles)
Image courtesy sandcastlematt/Flickr
This trail follows the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md. While bikers and hikers often tackle the entire trail, the canal path can also be enjoyed as a leisurely day hike.
From Great Falls to Harpers Ferry to Green Ridge State Forest—the second largest in Maryland—a walk along this rustic trail traces our nation's transportation history with sightings of brick tunnels, lock houses and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it all.
If you plan on making a multi-day journey, watch the color of the leaves change as you move north along with peak foliage.
6. Pokomoke River State Forest (Snow Hill, Md.) (1 mile)
Image courtesy D.C. Glovier/Flickr
Whether you explore the 15,500 acres of this forest from land or from water, you are sure to find breath-taking scenes of fall—in stands of loblolly pine, in bald-cypress forests and swamps and even in a five-acre remnant of old growth forest. Take a one-mile self guided trail or opt for an afternoon fall colors paddle in the nearby Pocomoke River State Park, sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
7. Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch Hike, Cumberland County, Pa.
Image courtesy Audubon Pennsylvania
This rocky site is located along an autumn raptor migration flyway, making it popular among bird-watchers. During the fall, however, it is a must-visit for birders and non-birders alike. From the top of Kittatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Mountain, you can see South Mountain and Cumberland, Perry, York and Franklin counties. The land is cared for by Audubon Pennsylvania.
8. Pole Steeple Trail, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Cumberland County, Pa. (.75 mile)
Image courtesy Shawnee17241/Flickr
This trail offers a great view for a short climb. While the trail is less than one mile long, it is steep! From the top, you can see Laurel Lake in Pine Grove Furnace State Park and all 2,000 feet of South Mountain. Plan this hike around sunset to see fall colors in a different light.
The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is open and ready for visitors. The 560-mile land and water route connects historic sites in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia while telling the story of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay region.
One of 19 national historic trails administered by the National Park Service, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail allows visitors to explore the region's unique landscapes and waterways while experiencing the places that bring to life the nation's Second War of Independence. Part of the nation's bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812, the trail traces American and British troop movements and introduces visitors to regional communities--Bladensburg, Baltimore, Washington, D.C.--affected by war.
Visitor centers, wayside signs and road markers connect the hundreds of sites located along the trail, some of which are accessible by bike or even boat. There is the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House in Havre de Grace, Md., where British raids in 1813 destroyed close to three-quarters of the town. There is the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, which houses the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. And there is the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., which the British burned along with the White House before a storm managed to put out the flames.
The trail's launch was celebrated in Fell's Point, Baltimore, by more than 100 partners, friends and tourism professionals.