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Keeping Watch above the Waves at the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse

For more photos and videos from the lighthouse, explore the Thomas Point Lighthouse and Thomas Point Lighthouse, Chesapeake Bay location pages.

Off the coast of Maryland, the Thomas Point Shoal lighthouse has kept watch over the waters of Chesapeake Bay for nearly 140 years.

Unlike traditional tower lighthouses, the Thomas Point beacon stands a mile and a half (2.4 kilometers) off the shore atop a stilt-like series of metal rods, or screwpiles, that anchor directly into the sandbank. While all other screwpile lighthouses in the nation have either fallen to winter ice floes or been relocated, the Thomas Point lighthouse has survived in its original location, earning it the designation of a National Historic Landmark.

Up until 1986, a succession of men lived in and kept watch from the small six-sided Victorian cottage above the waves, lighting the oil lamp behind the crystal lens and hand-winding the fog bell. Nowadays, the Baltimore Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse from afar, and an automated foghorn and solar-powered lens have taken the place of their human-powered predecessors.

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National Lighthouse Day

Lighthouses were once widely used as an aid to navigation for ship pilots through dangerous coastlines, reefs, or as beacons towards safe harbor entrances; however, due to maintenance costs and advanced navigational technology many are no longer operational.

The bill that proposed “National Lighthouse Day" — signed by President Ronald Reagan on November 5, 1988 — called for American lighthouse grounds, where feasible, to be open to the public on August 7th in order to honor the beacons of light that symbolize safety and security for boats at sea.