|Craighill Channel Lower Front, MD|
Description: The Craighill Channel, so named for William Price Craighill, a key figure on the Lighthouse Board who had supervised the engineering surveys of the channel, forms the first leg of the maintained channel from Chesapeake Bay to the Patapsco River and Baltimore Harbor. The channel leads from the mouth of the Magothy River to the southern end of Belvidere Shoal. The rising importance of Baltimore as a port persuaded Congress to set aside $50,000 in 1870 to widen the Craighill Channel to 500 feet and deepen it to 22 feet. However, without range lights, the channel was unusable at night. The Lighthouse Board moved to remedy this situation in 1871 writing “this channel has the advantage of saving about five miles in distance to large vessels bound to Baltimore from the lower bay; avoids much, if not all, of the dangers usually experienced from the accumulation of ice in the lower part of the Brewerton Channel during the winter; is much easier navigated, or would be if range beacons were established.” While eventually two sets of range lights would be constructed along the channel, totaling four lighthouses in all and forming an upper and lower range, the original plans called only for the lower range lights.
Work on the Craighill Channel Lower Front Range Lighthouse began in 1873. Interestingly, this was only the second caisson lighthouse in the United States, with the Duxbury Lighthouse in Massachusetts being the first, in 1872. However, the Craighill Channel construction was considered much more challenging from an engineering standpoint. Following the successful completion of the Craighill Channel Lower Front Range Lighthouse, the caisson method of construction became the method of choice in areas where ice floes were a concern.
While the construction of the lower front range was eventually a success, the process was more complicated than originally anticipated. When work began at the selected site, it was discovered that a solid foundation did not exist within 60 feet of the surface of the water. As a result, an additional appropriation of $25,000 had to be requested. To achieve an effective foundation for the lighthouse, ten feet of mud was removed from the channel floor, and that was just the beginning.
Following the extensive dredging at the site, wooden piles were driven deep into the seabed and then sawed off at a depth of 23 feet below the surface of the water. This process required the use of a novel technique, wherein a steam operated circular saw was used underwater to cut off the tops of the piles to the required height. This circular saw was “attached to a hollow wrought-iron shaft which was held in a vertical position in a frame.” As might be expected, attempting to make blind cuts at predetermined lengths underwater was not a flawless procedure, but eventually a stable foundation was established.
A caisson crib, built of hardwood and composed of four layers of one foot diameter sections of timber, was assembled at Havre de Grace, and to this were bolted the first three courses of the cast-iron cylinder, which was twenty-four feet in diameter. The first attempt to place the caisson atop the piles, made in October of 1873, was unsuccessful. However, by the end of that month, a reengineering of the ballast used to sink the caisson allowed the caisson to be successfully set in position.
Atop the caisson foundation of the front range light, a cylindrical, one-story dwelling was constructed. The interior consisted of a kitchen, sitting room, and two bedrooms, while a privy was cantilevered from the gallery that encircled the first story. 1873, the year the light was first lit, is centered above the entrance door on the north side of the lighthouse. In the top portion of the caisson, two large tanks were housed to store rainwater collected from the roof of the lighthouse. A wooden, circular stairway led from the dwelling space to the smaller cylindrical watchroom, which was surmounted by the ten-sided lantern.
The front range lighthouse is remarkable in that it is equipped with two lights. A fixed beacon located above the gallery deck on the south side of the lighthouse functions as the front range light, while a fifth-order Fresnel lens in the lantern room was used for general navigation. The focal plane of the lantern room is thirty-nine feet, while the range light is displayed from twenty-two feet above the bay.
Remarkably, the Craighill Channel Lower Front Range Lighthouse has never suffered ice damage despite its exposed location. The station was abandoned on February 11, 1936 due to dangerous ice conditions, but the keepers were able to return and reactivate the lights on February 24.
When the lighthouse was automated in May of 1964, it was one of the last lighthouses on Chesapeake Bay to lose its Coast Guard personnel. The exterior of the lighthouse has received regular attention, and is thus in fair condition. The interior, however, has been open to the elements and has become a residence for nesting birds. An osprey nest also frequently adorns the top of the lighthouse.
During the fall of 2002, two non-profit organizations applied to take ownership and become stewards of this historic lighthouse under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. Historical Place Preservation, Inc. was awarded a letter of recommendation by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior in July 2005 and received the keys and title to the lighthouse the following November. The organization has established a website devoted to the Craighill Channel Lower Front Lighthouse and plans to offer tours of the restored lighthouse in 2008.
Located 2.4 miles south of the Craighill Channel Lower Rear Range Light, and
about two miles offshore from North Point State Park. The lighthouse is owned by Historical Place Preservation, Inc.. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by Historical Place Preservation, Inc.. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.