|Lazaretto Point (Replica), MD|
Description: In the early 1800s the stretch of land in Baltimore Harbor across from Fort McHenry was known as Gorsuch Point, named so in honor of an important settler from colonial days. In 1801 the site was converted to a ‘lazaretto,’ a word of Italian origin meaning a hospital for those with contagious diseases. With massive immigration bringing diseases into America, the hospital became well known in Baltimore, and the word lazaretto fell into common parlance.
There are a couple of interesting tales linking Edgar Allen Poe to the Lazaretto Lighthouse. One is that his unfinished short story, entitled simply “The Lighthouse,” was inspired by the Lazaretto structure. Another is that shortly after the tower’s construction, Poe took out an ad in the local paper making a very dramatic claim. The ad is said to have proclaimed that a man would fly from the Shot Tower, which at that time was the tallest building in America, to the recently finished Lazaretto Lighthouse. A crowd gathered in anticipation, but after a long wait finally realized they had fallen for an April Fool’s day prank.
The conical tower, built at a cost of $2,100, originally employed eleven oil lamps with spherical reflectors to generate its light. This arrangement was expensive, as it consumed 450 gallons of lamp fuel every year. In the 1850s, the Lighthouse Board installed a Fresnel lens at the Lazaretto Lighthouse that led to a significant savings in oil. Frenchman Augustin Fresnel had invented the lens, which is an ingenious arrangement of prisms that is both very beautiful and practical, in 1822, but the United States was slow in adopting the technology. Using a Fresnel lens and only one lamp strongly enhanced the beam emanating from the Lazaretto Lighthouse. The Board initially chose a fourth-order lens for the lighthouse, though in 1914 this was upgraded to a 3˝-order.
1863 saw two significant developments to the station. First, a large quantity of iron ore was found beneath the lighthouse property, prompting a local company to mine it for the next five years. The Lighthouse Board was paid $5,662 for the mining rights, but had to call off the project and demand that the holes be filled in when the digging threatened the keeper’s property. A lighthouse depot was established next to the lighthouse in 1863 to serve as a storehouse for resupplying numerous other Chesapeake Bay lighthouses. At first, however, Lazaretto had to be employed as a munitions depot for Union forces embroiled in the Civil War. After the cessation of hostilities, the depot also served as a site for the prefabrication of screwpile lighthouses and the assembly of caisson foundations before they were towed offshore.
The lighthouse was criticized in the ensuing decades as being useless, but no money was allocated to improve the situation. The station was the first on the Chesapeake to receive electricity in 1914, but this was due more to its proximity to power generators than its utility as a navigational beacon. In 1926 the tower was demolished, and was replaced by a 39-foot steel skeleton tower with a brighter light. This structure was placed about 100 yards closer to the water, so that it would not be so detrimentally affected by the surrounding industrial buildings. Work at the Lazaretto depot slowed considerably as more and more lights were automated, and much of the remaining duties were transferred to the Portsmouth depot. The Coast Guard eventually concluded that even the taller skeleton tower at the Lazaretto station was not very useful to ships, and it was torn down in 1954. Four years later the depot followed suit; it was shut down, and the property was sold and converted into a shipping terminal.
Although the original Lazaretto Lighthouse disappeared years ago, a replica was built thanks to the wishes of a noted historian and Baltimore waterfront enthusiast, Norman Rukert Sr. Since 1921, the Rukert family has owned the Rukert Terminals Corporation, a Baltimore firm that off-loads, warehouses, and distributes cargo. Norman Rukert thought that recreating the lighthouse would be a fantastic way to help preserve history. In 1985, unfortunately after Rukert had passed away, his family built the replica in his honor. According to George Nixon, Norman’s nephew and the current president of the company, original blueprints were obtained from the National Archives so that an accurate replicate could me made. The lighthouse, which was constructed on the company’s property in 1985, is believed to be located in the general proximity of where the original tower stood.
While the reproduction does possess a light, the structure is not an active aid to navigation. Nixon, however, believes that the tower at the edge of the landing of the Lehigh Cement Corporation is important for other reasons. “Baltimore’s become so popular as a destination, especially for the cruising set...you could say (the lighthouse) is our contribution to the continuing emergence of Baltimore.”
Located on the grounds of the Lehigh Cement Company near the eastern
end of the Interstate 95 bridge over the Patapsco River. The lighthouse is owned by Rukert Terminals Corporation. Grounds/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by Rukert Terminals Corporation. Grounds/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.