|Solomons Lump, MD|
Description: The first lighthouse to mark the northern end of Smith Island and the entrance to Kedges Strait from Chesapeake Bay was built at Fog Point. Being illiterate, Richard and Euphemia Evans signed the deed granting a few acres on the point in exchange for $200 with a large X. The Fog Point Lighthouse was built by John Donahoo at a cost of $3,500 and began operation in 1827, exhibiting a light from ten lamps set in 16-inch reflectors. In 1855, the beacon was improved through the installation of a fifth-order Fresnel lens.
In its annual report of 1872, the Lighthouse Board described the need for a new light on Smith Island. “Solomon's Lump is a point of land on the north end of Evans Island. There is a shoal that extends out a considerable distance from this point in a northerly direction, and is a source of danger to vessels navigating Kedges Strait at night. Near its extreme point is the regular channel. The shoal itself has not more than about 5 feet of water in it to a point near the red buoy, which marks its extreme northerly end. At night this buoy cannot be seen a sufficient distance to be of any use. The only light in this vicinity is that on Fog Point, about one and one-fourth miles in a west, southeast direction, but, on account of its distance and location, it affords no security to vessels from going ashore on the reef off Solomon's Lump. The light at Fog Point was established in 1827, before the introduction of the screw-pile system of light-houses, and though it has served to mark the entrance to Kedges Strait for a long time, it is of little value as compared with other positions that could have been selected for a screw-pile structure.”
The Board urged the establishment of a light anchored on the treacherous shoal and estimated that $15,000 would cover its construction. Such a light would be able to mark both the strait and the shoal, “and render navigation through Kedges Straight safe at all times.” The report pointed out that Fog Point could then be discontinued, thus saving the maintenance and crew costs of having yet another light.
The Lighthouse Board repeated its request for $15,000 in 1873, and the following year congress appropriated funds for the beacon. Five acres of submerged land was ceded to the federal government, and work began on the lighthouse in the summer of 1875. The structure was described as a “screw-pile lighthouse, on five wrought-iron piles, square in plan, with a lantern surmounting the keeper’s dwelling.” In 1892, this initial station was reported to possess a fixed, white light, with white keeper’s quarters, a brown roof and a black lantern. The light was augmented by a 1,200-pound fog bell, which was sounded by a Gamewell striking machine. The keeper could wind this apparatus once, and it would strike the bell continuously over the next twelve hours.
This screwpile lighthouse lasted eighteen years, until January of 1893, when it was destroyed by pressures from the winter ice. Although it was not swept away, the Lighthouse Board reported the structure “was pushed over so that part of it is submerged. All the movable property was taken away and stored. In June a lens lantern light was established on the wreck to mark its position at night and afford assistance to local navigation.”
Congress appropriated $30,000 on March 3, 1893 for a replacement screwpile lighthouse, but “after mature consideration” the Board decided that a sturdy caisson foundation was needed at the site and suggested to Congress that the money saved from the “advantageous contract” from the building of Wolf Trap should be applied to make up the cost differential between a screwpile and the caisson. Congress agreed, and in April of 1895 work was initiated. There was a distinct urgency about completing the new lighthouse quickly, for while it was being constructed the old screwpile wreck was finally dislodged by ice and carried away. This meant that the temporary light could not be shown, as there was simply nothing on which to mount it.
The caisson was assembled at the Lazaretto lighthouse depot and barged to Solomons Lump in May of 1895. Solomons Lump Lighthouse is one of only eleven light structures in the United States sunk by the pneumatic process. This meant that water was pumped out of a chamber in the lower reaches of the caisson, so that workers could enter and move dirt and sand away from the caisson’s ‘cutting edge.’ At the same time, this edge was pushed farther down into the shoal by the addition of concrete and stone weight in the cast-iron cylinder. The caisson quickly attained the correct depth, but had to be sunk another two and a half feet to properly level it. For this reason, an extra course of cylinder plates were added to the foundation so that the station would retain its intended height above the water level. The foundation, which had a diameter of twenty-five feet, was filled with concrete to a point about six feet above the high-water line, and on top of this filler, two 2,000 gallon water cisterns and the cellar were constructed. The interior walls of the cellar were lined with bricks, which were used to support the weight of the tower above.
The cylindrical foundation is thirty-seven feet tall but only half of its length is visible above high tide. The upper course of cylinder plates do not flare out into a broader trumpet shape like in many other lighthouse of similar design, but rather sport ornamental cast-iron brackets that hold a cantilevered gallery deck. A twenty-five foot tall, octagonal brick keeper’s dwelling was built atop the cylinder, but this was demolished (probably in 1971). This dwelling was built around a square brick lantern tower, which formed two of the eight sides of the house. The first floor of the keeper’s quarters contained the living room, kitchen, pantry and a door that led into the square lantern tower and its ascending staircase. On the second floor were two bedrooms for the keeper and his assistant. Now that the house has been destroyed, the brick tower sits by itself, off-center, on the northwest side of the foundation cylinder. The tower has thirteen inch thick walls at its base, though these taper to four inches in thickness at the top. Painted white, it once had windows to shed light on its interior stairway, but these have been covered over with bricks.
The tower is topped by an octagonal lantern with a round metal roof and ventilator ball. A railed gallery surrounds the lantern room. The first light to be shown was fixed white, and issued from a fifth-order Fresnel lens. In 1919, the station received a fourth-order lens, when a lens swap was made with the Cherry Stone Lighthouse in Virginia.. Today the light characteristic is flashing white with a six second interval, complimented by two red sectors to mark the shoals. The light, with a focal plane of forty-seven feet, has a white range of eight miles and a red range of six miles.
Before the installation of radio and telephone technology in the 1920s there was no way for the keepers to communicated with the mainland. This was of great concern to the keepers’ families, who must have worried that the distant lighthouse could be wrenched by the ice or struck by an errant ship. The keepers were forced to make an eight-mile journey in a small skiff for shore leave, and the opportunity to visit family was seldom delayed except in extreme weather. During the service of keeper Henry Columbus Sterling, who oversaw the lighthouse from 1900 to 1937, keepers worked for one week and had shore leave for one week. This meant that Sterling had to take four trips to and from the shore a month, which he made in a tiny sailboat.
In 1936, shortly before Sterling retired at age 65, there was a great freeze and the Jane’s Island light was swept away by ice. Sterling’s son, concerned for his father’s safety, climbed atop the Ice Plant in Crisfield in a desperate attempt to determine if the lighthouse was still standing. Although the light still shone, Sterling had in fact abandoned the station and walked across the heavy ice to the safety of Smith Island (much like his predecessors had done in 1893, when the first station was wrecked). Sterling had initially been unwilling to escape the potential danger, but was ordered to abandon via a note, which was dropped to him from a plane.
Solomons Lump was converted to unmanned status in April of 1950, after which time the station’s condition worsened. In 1988 the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Chokecherry docked at the station and made some general repairs. A sealant and paint coating was spread over the brick masonry, and workers scraped and then painted the upper portion of the caisson. This was a downgrade from the recommended maintenance, which called for a thorough sandblasting of the whole caisson visible above the water. Coast Guard crew also removed some aged and yellowed acrylic panes from the lantern and replaced them with glass, which allowed greater visibility for the light. Cracks in the lower deck were filled in and the entire surface was covered with sturdy roofing materials designed to resist the elements.
During the nomination in 1996 of the Solomons Lump Lighthouse for the National Register of Historic Places, it was concluded that the station was not eligible as the "station's integrity was compromised when the integral keeper's quarters was demolished." This functional but peculiar looking lighthouse thus faces an uncertain future.
Located in the Kedges Straits, which connect Tangier Sound and the Chesapeake
Bay. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.