|Blackistone Island (Replica), MD|
Description: Called Maryland’s Plymouth Rock by some, St. Clements Island was the site of the first landing of colonists in Maryland, an event that occurred on March 25, 1634. The group had left England on the feast day of St. Clement, patron saint of mariners, and so bestowed the saint’s name on the island. They didn’t remain on the 455-acre island long, choosing instead to establish St. Mary’s City on the mainland.
A few of the colonists, however, did eventually settle on the island. One of these was Dr. Thomas Gerard, who gave the island to his daughter Elizabeth upon her marriage to Nehemiah Blackistone in 1669. The island would remain in the Blackistone family for over 150 years.
Situated in the Potomac River, the small island served several purposes during the formative years of the United States. During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the British gained control of the island and used it as a base for raiding nearby plantations and for attempts at blockading the river and Chesapeake Bay.
During the Civil War, Confederate forces planned to destroy the lighthouse to keep it from aiding Union forces. When Keeper Jerome McWilliams learned of the plan he plead with the Confederates to spare the structure as his wife was close to childbirth and moving her off the island would endanger both her life and that of the unborn child. The Confederate officer had compassion on the couple and instead of tearing down the lighthouse opted to confiscate the supply of oil and destroy the lantern and lens.
The Blackistone Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1932, and twenty-four years later a shell from the nearby Naval Proving Ground reportedly exploded near the abandoned lighthouse and set it afire. The Navy later razed the walls of the charred structure.
The McWilliams family’s connection to the Blackistone Lighthouse didn’t end with the Civil War as Josephine McWilliams Freeman minded the light from 1875 to 1912, and it was $5,000 willed by Josephine’s granddaughter, Mary Josephine Mattingly, in 1998 that provided the seed money and inspiration to rebuild the structure.
A group called the St. Clement's Hundred was soon formed to raise the additional funds needed to rebuild the lighthouse. St. Mary's County commissioners allocated $90,000 towards the projected, and the State of Maryland contributed $275,000 in matching funds.
Don Cropp, owner of Colony Builders and project manager, was key in seeing the project completed. “We took great pains to build an exact replica of the original lighthouse,” Cropp said. “Original drawings and specifications along with old photos were followed precisely. One example of this is that the specs called for 80 18-inch Loblolly pines to be used for the beams in the floors and ceilings. We found a stand of these trees and had them cut then milled at a local Amish saw mill."
Work on the lighthouse commenced on April 13, 2007, with Maryland Rock providing the barges to transport a total of three hundred tons of materials to the island. Due to the primitive state of the island, all the supplies had to be offloaded by hand or with a skidder, and the cement used in the lighthouse was mixed by hand and transported to the site by wheelbarrow.
The lighthouse was completed in June of 2008 thanks to the efforts of an army of volunteers and generous donations from individuals and corporations. A dedication ceremony was held shortly thereafter on Sunday, June 22 for invited guests featuring talks given by Dick Gass, President of the St. Clement’s Hundred, and former Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel. The Blackistone Lighthouse Foundation will now be responsible for the lighthouse.
Located on St. Clement's Island in the Potomac River. The lighthouse is owned by Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Grounds/dwelling open in season.
The lighthouse is owned by Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Grounds/dwelling open in season.
Pictures on this page copyright Kyle Maw, used by permission.