|Hooper Island, MD|
Description: Hooper Island is actually a chain of three islands, called Upper Hooper Island, Middle Hooper Island, and Lower Hooper Island, that run parallel to the mainland for roughly ten miles along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The islands were named after Henry Hooper, an earlier owner of much of what is now known as Upper Hooper Island. Sometime before 1855, a lightship was anchored west of the islands to warn mariners of shoals that extended for some distance into the bay. Lighthouse Board reports indicate that this vessel was “thoroughly repaired and refitted” in 1856, but it met a sad fate during the Civil War when it was either “removed and sunk or destroyed by the insurgents.”
The site for Hooper Island Lighthouse was roughly eleven miles down the bay from Cove Point, and when Point No Point would be completed an additional nine miles down the bay from Hooper Island, but on the opposite side of the shipping channel, the stretch between Cove Point and Smith Point lights would be adequately marked.
Congress provided the necessary funds for the Hooper Island Lighthouse in two $30,000 allotments made in 1898 and 1899. Contracts were awarded to Variety Iron Works of Cleveland for providing the metalwork and Toomey Brothers of Connecticut for erecting the lighthouse. The Cleveland foundry was late delivering its work, forcing the cancellation of the contract with Toomey Brothers. The construction contract was thus re-advertised in June of 1900, and once again Toomey Brothers provided the lowest bid. Their new bid of $31,300 was about $2,000 more than their earlier one.
Hooper Island Lighthouse is one of only eleven in the U.S. that rests atop a caisson foundation sunk using the pneumatic process. In this procedure, a cast-iron cylinder is mounted atop a wooden caisson containing an airtight compartment. After this arrangement has been towed to the construction site, water is pumped out of the chamber. Construction workers then shovel or otherwise remove sand and sludge away from the edges of the caisson, and the heavy concrete and stone inside the cylinder causes the entire structure to sink into the bottom of the bay. The pneumatic process is far from simple. In the case of the construction of the Point No Point Lighthouses, the caisson overturned and was pushed down the bay by a gale, but, fortunately, work went far more smoothly at Hooper Island.
In May of 1901 the wooden caisson, connected to two tiers of cast-iron plating that were filled with twelve inches of concrete, was launched. A temporary pier and work platform were completed at the construction site on June 23, 1901. By the end of June, the fifth layer of plates had been added to the cylindrical foundation, and the entire structure was towed to the construction pier on July 6, 1901. After sand pumps and hard labor had managed to sink the caisson to a depth of nearly six feet, 300 tons of riprap stone were deposited around the iron cylinder to serve as a scour apron. On August 31, the foundation reached the desired depth of thirteen and a half feet. The top tier of the foundation, which flares out like a trumpet, was then added, and the upper portion of the cylinder was lined with brick to serve as a cellar for housing the station’s cistern.
Hooper Island Lighthouse sits in eighteen feet of water about three miles west of Middle Hooper Island. The foundation extends eighteen feet above the high waterline, and the focal plane of the light is sixty-three feet. In 1904 the light’s characteristic was changed to fixed white punctuated by a flash at fifteen-second intervals. The light was changed back to flashing white later on with the repeating ten-second signature of a one-second flash, two-second eclipse, one-second flash, and six-second eclipse. Hooper Island Lighthouse was fully automated on November 21, 1961. When the Coast Guard called at the lighthouse during a regular visit on September 15, 1976, they discovered that the original fourth-order Fresnel lens had been stolen, necessitating the installation of a new solar-powered beacon.
Anchored in the center of the cellar level and extending upwards to the floor of the lantern room, is a hollow iron column with a diameter of thirteen inches. This column’s primary purpose was to bear the load of the upper floors, though it also likely comprised the free-fall zone for the counterweights used to strike the fog bell and rotate the lens. A fog bell, manufactured by McShane of Baltimore in 1901, was originally located on the gallery surrounding the watchroom level. In the late 1930s, a Cunningham air diaphragm foghorn was installed, but the bell was retained as a backup.
The tower’s first level served as the station’s kitchen, and still has parts of an old cabinet that once contained a sink, which drew water upwards from the cistern in the cellar. The second, third, and fourth levels contained office, bedroom, and living space for the keepers. The second and third stories have three windows each, while five circular, porthole windows provide light for the fourth level. For the bottom four levels, the tower is lined with bricks whose faces were glazed white to provide a smooth finish.
While the floors in the bottom four floors were originally wood, the floors of the watchroom and lantern room consist of cast-iron plates featuring a diamond pattern. In the center of the watchroom is a curved ship’s ladder that provides access through a trapdoor to the lantern room. The original iron lantern pedestal is still in place here, and curved, diamond-shaped panes of glass are used in the circular lantern room.
In 2006, the lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities, including federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit corporations, and educational organizations. Dorchester County and the U.S. Lighthouse Society both submitted applications for the lighthouse, and in May of 2009, the deed for the tower was given to the U. S. Lighthouse Society, who also shares responsibility for the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse.
Located on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay, 3.75 miles west of
the town of Hoopersville on Middle Hooper Island. The lighthouse is owned by the United States Lighthouse Society. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the United States Lighthouse Society. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.