Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2017

The Now Dark Sharps Island Lighthouse - Then and Now


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Maryland’s 1882 Sharps Island Lighthouse has now officially gone dark. It seems that the U.S. Coast Guard has decided that the lighthouse is too dangerous to be serviced by its personnel.

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Photo by: Barb Underwood

Located near Tilghman Island on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay, the lighthouse has been leaning since the 1970s when it was pushed by an ice floe. However, it wasn’t until 1996 that the Coast Guard announced plans to demolish the lighthouse. However, public opposition to that plan put a stop to it. Finally the Coast Guard declared the Sharps Island Lighthouse as excess property, but when no legitimate nonprofit or other government entity wanted the lighthouse for free, it was put up for auction.

In 2008, the Sharps Island Lighthouse was sold for $80,000 to a new owner identified only as AFB, Inc. of Bear, Delaware. The terms of the sale gave the Coast Guard access to the structure, allowing them to continue maintaining it as an active aid to navigation, which they have done until now when access was declared as too dangerous.

It appears that since obtaining title to the lighthouse, the new owners have made little if any effort to stabilize the lighthouse, leaving it with an uncertain fate.

The historic image of when Sharps Island Lighthouse was in its heyday shows that the station’s fog bell was mounted on the outer deck of the lantern’s walkway. You will also notice that the lower outer walkway, partially enclosed to protect the machinery that operated the fog bell, was covered with a roof, which is no longer on the structure today. Also clearly seen to the left of the lower outer deck is the outhouse, which overhangs from the deck for its waste disposal into the bay, something that would never be allowed in this day and age. If you look closely, you will also see the lighthouse keeper leaning up against the railing.

Believe it or not, the first Sharps Island Lighthouse, built in 1838, and its successor built in 1866 were actually on an island that has simply eroded away and virtually disappeared. At one time there was even a hotel on the island. Interestingly, it was also ice that destroyed the 1866 tower, which resulted in the construction of the current tower.

As well as listing, the tower is suffering from water damage and rot to its interior. Any efforts to save it will cost an enormous amount of money. But saving it appears to be unlikely, and today the Sharp’s Island Lighthouse remains on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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