Chesapeake Bay - Lighthouses - The Mariners' Museum
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Lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay
Life of a Lighthouse Keeper
Lighthouse Signals
Navigational Aids
Types of Lighthouse Construction
Timeline
Suggested Reading

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Types of Lighthouse Construction
New and Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Towers, Cape Henry, Virginia
New and Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Towers, Cape Henry, Virginia
TOWER: The early Bay lighthouses were simple towers of brick or stone with a light at the top. They were built near the shoreline so they could be seen by passing ships. Erosion of the shore and the wear caused by the weather made many of these towers unstable. Some towers were protected with iron plates over the brick walls, but another design soon developed.
Drum Point Lighthouse, Patuxent River, Maryland
Drum Point Lighthouse, Patuxent River, Maryland
SCREWPILE: There were more screwpile lighthouses built on the Chesapeake Bay than anywhere in the world, though the design came from England. In fact, forty-two screwpiles were built on the Bay between 1850 and 1900. Seven iron legs were screwed into the bottom of the Bay in a hexagonal pattern. A white cottage for the keeper was built on top of this iron foundation, and a light was placed at the top. The legs of the foundation were protected from ice with piles of stones called riprap. Screwpiles were usually built on shoals or at the mouth of a river. Most screwpile houses were torn down in the 1960s, but many of the iron bases are still used for automated lights and fog signals.
Sharps Island Lighthouse, southwest of Tilgman Island, Chesapeake Bay
Sharps Island Lighthouse, southwest of Tilgman Island, Chesapeake Bay
CAISSON: In 1890, five screwpiles that had burned or been damaged by ice were replaced with a new kind of lighthouse. A cast iron cylinder was sunk deep into the bottom of the Bay and filled with heavy stones and concrete. Then, a tower of iron or brick was built on top of the caisson foundation. Caisson lighthouses were expensive to build but were very sturdy. All the caissons built on the Bay still survive.


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