|Fishing Battery, MD|
Description: Fishing Battery is an artificial island created years ago to benefit the fishing industry near the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Paddle boats, unable to enter the shallow port at Havre de Grace, would call at the small, man-made island, pick up a load of fish caught in nets strung out over the Susquehanna Flats, and transport the bounty to markets in Baltimore. By the end of the 1800s, the island had also become a fish hatchery for shad, which led to another name for the island - Shad Battery.
The lighthouse, a one-and-a-half-story, brick dwelling with an integrated lantern room centered on its pitched roof, was built in 1853. The original light source was five lamps outfitted with reflectors. Just a few years later, the Lighthouse Board began to make changes to the light, when an inspection revealed that Fishing Battery’s lantern, along with those of several other Bay lighthouses, was “of an old and exceedingly defective character.” The Board decided that in “the interests of commerce...steps (should) be taken to remedy the evil.” First, the lens was upgraded to a sixth-order Fresnel, and in 1864, the defective lantern was replaced. This apparently did not suffice, for just three years later, Fishing Battery and three other Maryland lighthouses were granted “new and improved” lanterns. At the turn of the century, the lens was once again upgraded, this time to fifth-order status.
During the eleven year period from 1880-1891, “extensive improvements” like “raising the grade of the island” were made under the direction of the United States Bureau of Fisheries. The Battery had been leased to the Bureau, who removed “the lower floor of the light-house, filled the enclosure with clean soil and laid a concrete floor.” This was done both to improve sanitation and “to conform to the new grade.” To make up for the loss of space, the walls of the lighthouse were apparently raised another level. The bottom floor was earmarked for a boathouse and storage, leaving the keeper and his family with just the second floor that contained a combination kitchen and sitting room, and two bedrooms.
The Bureau of Fisheries ultimately purchased the Battery outright for $15,000. An 1887 drawing of the area shows that the Bureau added an additional residence, a mechanic’s cottage, a storehouse and icehouse, a water tower, a boat basin, coal bins and a boiler. The operation also possessed a fish basin and hatchery as well as a gated shad pond.
The Battery Island Preservation Society, working closely with the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum in the 1990s, proposed a plan to transform the dilapidated lighthouse and eroding island into a public park and historic bed and breakfast. The project received official approval, but the effort had fizzled by the time an official lease agreement was ready.
While groups like the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum make alternate arrangements, the lighthouse and its dwindling grounds have endured increasingly brazen acts of vandalism. In 1992 it was reported that the stair treads, shutters, window sashes and other wooden parts were all torn from the building and used as fuel for a bonfire. In 1994, a metal plaque indicating the lighthouse’s historical value was stolen the same weekend it was put up. Newly applied plywood coverings for the lighthouse’s windows and doors were also ripped off and used in campfires.
On a recent Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society trip to the Battery aboard the 49-foot skipjack Martha Lewis, it was evident that the 1853 structure was suffering from severe neglect. Society members described the island as “a patch of dry land only inches above lapping high-tide waves,” and its historic lighthouse as “a rundown two-story stone house that shoulders a ruined 32 foot-high turreted light tower.” The 36 members aboard that day climbed down into a motorboat hanging off the Martha Lewis, and in groups of four or five made their way through the shallow waters to a wooden landing located a few feet from the lighthouse. In addition to the lighthouse, the small island is home to a single picnic table, and a few scruffy trees. Recent island visitors have left behind evidence of their stay in the form of beer cans and fire rings.
Despite its derelict appearance, local citizens and volunteers have not given up hope. Local architects and engineers have donated time towards a feasibility study for the restoration of the island. The island’s preservation society has obtained estimates for rebuilding the stone bulkheads that previously encircled the island. Most of the bulkheads are still in the area and would only require being moved back into position. The lighthouse itself is still structurally intact, and the ambitious goal is to restore its cisterns, boathouse and cast-iron lantern. Future plans would also include the restoration of some of the demolished outbuildings like the fish hatcheries, which were so vital to area commerce in the 1800s. While the whereabouts of the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens is officially unknown, it is rumored that the lens is being kept safe by friends of the lighthouse in anticipation of the structure’s eventual renovation.
Photo Gallery: 1
Located on Fishing Battery Island, just over
three miles south of Havre de Grace and the
entrance to the Susquehanna River. The lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Grounds open, dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Grounds open, dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Suzanne Alston, Maria Gregory, used by permission.