Thomas Point Lighthouse - Last Of A Kind
by Walter Ham, U.S. Coast Guard HQ
The Thomas Point Shoal Light is the last screw-pile lighthouse on
its original foundation in the United States and the last lighthouse
that Coast Guardsmen served in on the Chesapeake Bay.
May 18, 2019 - The Thomas Point
Lighthouse is the last active screw-pile lighthouse on its
original foundation in the U.S. and the last lighthouse
manned by U.S. Coast Guardsmen on the Chesapeake Bay. The
light is maintained by Aids to Navigation Team Baltimore. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Walter Ham)
1986, U.S. Coast Guardsmen served on the offshore light that is
located south of Annapolis, Maryland’s state capital.
unique hexagonal screw-pile lighthouse was constructed in 1875 and
fixed to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay using a technique
developed by Alexander Mitchell, an Irish lighthouse designer. The
world’s first screw-pile lighthouse was lit in England in 1840.
Today, the U.S. Coast Guard still maintains the Thomas Point
Light, but the lighthouse structure was transferred to the City of
Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, the Annapolis Maritime Museum and
the U.S. Lighthouse Society in 2004. Named a National Historical
Landmark in 1999, the Thomas Point Lighthouse is one of only 12
lighthouses in the U.S. to earn this high honor.
lighthouse marks the shoals at the entrance to Annapolis,” said
Senior Chief Petty Officer John Kopp, the officer-in-charge of Aids
to Navigation Team Baltimore, the team that maintains the light.
Kopp said the other Chesapeake Bay screw-pile lighthouses have
been destroyed or moved to shore-side museums. A native of
Philadelphia, Kopp leads the 20-person ATON team that maintains 508
primary Aids to Navigation, including six major lights and 42 range
The U.S. Lighthouse Society hosts tours of the Thomas
Point Lighthouse between June and October every year. The tours
depart from the Annapolis Maritime Museum.
According to Jeff
Gales from the U.S. Lighthouse Society Headquarters, more than 2,000
people have visited the lighthouse since it first opened for tours
“The Thomas Point Shoal project is a special and
unique partnership between us, Anne Arundel County and the Annapolis
Maritime Museum,” said Gales, who has worked at the U.S. Lighthouse
Society Headquarters for 14 years.
Chief Warrant Officer
Christopher Runt, the Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capital
Region Aids to Navigation officer, said screw-pile lighthouses were
ideally suited for the 180-mile-long Chesapeake Bay.
the things that makes this region unique is that most of our work is
on an estuary and the 150 rivers and streams that feed into it,”
said Runt. “We also are located in a region where we contend with
the damage done by both hurricanes in the summer and ice in the
In the past, ice floes wreaked havoc on the
screw-pile lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay. Ice has damaged,
destroyed and sometimes set them adrift. In 1881, the Sharps Island
Lighthouse was knocked off its foundation by an ice floe and drifted
for more than 16 hours with its keepers still inside until it ran
aground almost five miles away.
Over the years, rock rip-rap
and ice breakers were installed to protect the Thomas Point Light
from ice floes.
“The Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse was
intentionally designed to withstand the forces that ice puts on our
structures,” said Runt, who is originally from Pittsburgh. “The rock
rip-rap was added to shield the legs from the moving ice.”
The cottage style lighthouse building supports the cupola light room
that housed a 440-pound 4th order Fresnel lens until the light was
automated in 1986. Today, the solar-powered LED light shines a white
light 16 nautical miles and a red light 11 nautical miles.
The Fresnel lens that was used in the lighthouse now marks the
entrance to Sector Maryland-National Capital Region Office.
“The lens represents our shared history, both ATON and maritime, on
the Chesapeake Bay,” said Runt. “Our current ATON crews are trusted
to maintain the Aids to Navigation with the same dedication as the
crews that have come before us for the last 230 years.”