Images of Concord Lighthouse (Havre de Grace, Maryland)
Concord Point Light (lighthouse) is located in Havre de Grace, Maryland, overlooking the point where the Susquehanna River flows into the Chesapeake Bay (the northernmost lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay). Concord Point Lighthouse was established to warn seafaring vessels away from the treacherous currents and shoals near the mouth of the Susquehanna River, an area of increasing navigational traffic at the time it was constructed in 1827. Master builder John Donahoo, a-multiple-terms Havre de Grace town commissioner, was responsible for the construction of the lighthouse in his hometown. At the time of its de-commissioning in 1975, Concord Point Lighthouse had the distinction of being the oldest beacon in continuous use in Maryland. The name Concord Point is derived from ‘Conquered Point’, which is itself a rearrangement of the original christening, ‘Point of Conquest’.
CONCORD POINT LIGHT QUICK FACTS * Second oldest lighthouse in Maryland (built 1827) * Northern-most lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay * 30-foot tower painted white with metal lantern painted black * Built of local Port Deposit granite * Tower walls are 3 feet thick at the base, 18 inches at the top * Fifth Order Fresnels lens * 27 granite steps, 8-rung iron ladder to lantern * Original tongue and groove mahogany door and lock * First keeper was John O’Neill, hero of the War of 1812 * Automated in 1920 * Decommissioned in 1975; oldest light in continuous service at that time * Keeper’s Dwelling built in 1827 of local granite, 200 feet from the tower
LIGHTHOUSE DESCRIPTION Concord Point Light is a 36-ft tall (11 m) tower that was built in 1827. It is the oldest lighthouse in Maryland that is accessible to the public and the second oldest tower lighthouse still standing on the Chesapeake Bay (Pooles Island Light (built 2 years earlier) is within Aberdeen Proving Ground but off-limits). Both lighthouses are very similar, built by John Donahoo from the local granite construction to the mahogany doors.
The original Keeper’s Dwelling still exists at Concord Point and has been fully restored to its 1884 version.
The lighthouse, a truncated conical tower topped by a lantern and deck, was built with Port Deposit granite, barged down the Susquehanna River. The walls are 31 inches (790 mm) thick at the base and narrow to 18 inches (460 mm) at the parapet. John Donahoo also built the keeper’s house across the street.
The lantern was originally lit with 9 whale oil lamps with 16-inch (410 mm) tin reflectors. In 1854, a sixth-order Fresnel lens was installed. This was later upgraded to a fifth-order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was automated in 1920.
The 484-square-foot lighthouse tract was deeded to the federal government by the town commissioners in 1826, and on May 18 of that year Congress provided $2,500 for the lighthouse and added $1,500 to this amount on March 2, 1827. The tower’s walls are three feet, three inches thick at the base, where the inside diameter of the tower is eleven feet, and taper to a thickness of one-and-a-half-feet at the lantern room. A tongue and groove mahogany door, identical to one used at Pooles Island light, originally guarded the entrance-way, while a spiral staircase made of triangular granite steps leads to a quarter-circular stone landing, from which the lantern may be accessed by climbing a slightly angled iron ship’s ladder. The lantern floor is composed of radially cut stone pieces, which are held in place by flat iron keys. The storm panels on the lantern are secured by iron mullions cast in an unusual fin shape. The original illuminating apparatus consisted of multiple lamps, each with its own sixteen-inch reflector.
BACKGROUND HISTORY In the nation’s early years, waterways provided the only means of effective transportation and communication. In 1789, Congress made aids to navigation, including lighthouses, the responsibility of the federal government instead of individual states. Cape Henry and other Virginia locations on the Chesapeake received the first lighthouses. Finally in 1819, Congress authorized the first Maryland lights at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor. The next 2 lighthouses were authorized in 1824 for Thomas Point Bar (entrance to Annapolis) and Pooles Island (guiding ships to the Gunpowder River and points north). The next year, the federal government authorized construction of a lighthouse on Concord Point in Havre de Grace at the entrance to the Susquehanna River.
Stephen Pleasanton, 5th auditor of the Treasury, was responsible for all aids to navigation. He sent Naval officer William Barney to Havre de Grace to obtain property on Concord Point for the light station. Barney’s task proved to be difficult because valuable fisheries lined the river bank and no one would sell their land. Finally the town commissioners agreed to provide the end of Lafayette Street for the lighthouse, but the keeper’s house and garden would have to be some distance away. In 1826, the State of Maryland authorized the city to transfer the end of Lafayette Street to the federal government. In May of 1827 the federal government signed deeds for both the 22 foot square plot on the riverbank and a 1 acre parcel landside. This unusual arrangement meant the keeper’s quarters would be 200 feet from the lighthouse, a sizable distance in poor weather.
Local documents describe the lighthouse area as being “seriously blighted” by 1924, and apparently remained that way for many years. The lighthouse was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1975 and soon after that the lens was stolen. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Extensive restoration began in 1979, and is ongoing. The keeper’s house has been restored and is now open to the public as a museum.
A perusal of the Lighthouse Board’s annual reports reveals that Concord Point Lighthouse has been a relatively low-maintenance structure over the years. On May 10, 1855, a steamer’s lens replaced the nine constant-level lamps and reflectors used in the lantern room, and this in turn was upgraded to a sixth-order Fresnel lens in 1869, and then a fifth-order lens in 1891. The signature of the light was changed from fixed white to fixed red in in 1879, and then to fixed green in 1931.
In 1884, an extra story with four rooms was added to the keeper’s dwelling, providing better accommodations for Keeper Henry O’Neill and his family. The light was switched over to electrical operation in November 1918. Keeper O’Neill was scheduled to retire the following month, and he was allowed to remain in the house as a custodian. Following the passing of Keeper ’Neill , the dwelling was sold to Michael Fahey in 1920 for $4,000, and the structure was subsequently used as a rooming house, restaurant, and bar.
LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS * John O’Neill (1827 – 1838) * Thomas Courtney (1838 – 1841) * John Blaney (1841 – 1844) * Thomas Courtney (1844 – 1849) * John Blaney (1849 – 1853) * Thomas Sutor (1853 – 1861) * John O’Neill, Jr. (1861 – 1863) * Esther O’Neill (1863 – 1881) * Henry E. O’Neill (1881 – 1918).
Over the years, the keepers of Concord Point Lighthouse were mostly descendants of John O’Neill, an Irish immigrant who arrived in America at the age eighteen. O’Neill achieved lasting fame during the War of 1812, when British ships commanded by Admiral Sir George Cockburn turned their guns on Havre de Grace. As a local militia lieutenant in charge of some four dozen men, O’Niell’s mission was to hold a small parapet of three cannons named Potato Battery. Many of O’Neill’s soldiers were too old to serve in the regular United States Army, and when the British opened fire they all quickly abandoned their posts. O’Neill declined to join his retreating men, and heroically took charge of one of the cannons himself. He later described the experience: “The grape shot flew thick about me. I loaded the gun myself without anyone to serve the vent, which, you know is very dangerous, and when I fired her, she recoiled and ran over my thigh.” Shortly thereafter O’Neill was forced to retreat into town; nevertheless he procured a musket and continued to fire on the ships, all the while trying to entice the fleeing members of his troop to return and assist him. O’Neill was eventually captured by the British and sentenced to be hanged aboard one of their ships, prompting his fifteen-year-old daughter to reportedly row out in a skiff and plead for her father’s life. Admiral Cockburn was so impressed by her courage that he released O’Neill and gave the Irishman’s daughter a gold and tortoise-shell snuff box, which is presently in the keeping of the Maryland Historical Society.
O’Neill managed to parlay his heroic stature into a town commissioner’s position in Havre de Grace. He also managed another political appointment: first lighthouse keeper at Concord Point. At the time, the appointment of keepers was a very politicized process, with the coveted jobs usually going to veterans and those well connected to powerful decision makers. O’Neill stayed on the job from 1827 until his death in 1838. Following O’Neill, Thomas Courtney and John Blaney each served two terms as keeper until Thomas Sutor took charge of the light in 1853. John O’Neill, Jr. succeeded Keeper Sutor in 1861 and served until his death in 1863, at which time his wife Esther assumed responsibility for the light. During a portion of the eighteen years she was in charge of the light, Esther was assisted by Gabriel Evans, her son-in-law. Henry E. O’Neill became keeper of the light after his mother resigned in 1881 and served until his death in 1919.
MODERN HISTORY During World War I, the Lighthouse Service encouraged its personnel to grow gardens and purchase liberty bonds to support the war effort, and in 1918, seventy-seven-year-old Henry O’Neill used $300 he had saved for funeral expenses for himself and his wife to purchase bonds. A letter mentioning O’Neill’s sacrifice reached President Woodrow Wilson, to which he replied, “The inclosed letter is not only interesting but touching, and I am cheered to have seen it.”
The lighthouse and keeper’s house are maintained by The Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse. Both the tower and keeper’s house are open to visitors. The grounds are open year-round.
Concord Point Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1975, and shortly thereafter the Fresnel lens mysteriously disappeared from the tower. Some insist that the present lens, on loan from the Coast Guard and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, is in fact the original one that disappeared in 1975. Concord Point Lighthouse is currently listed as a private aid to navigation, exhibiting a light from its fifth-order Fresnel lens.
A group of concerned citizens formed the non-profit the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse in 1979 to restore and maintain the structure. The tower was restored in 1981, and in 1983 a fifth-order Fresnel lens, on loan from the Coast Guard, was mounted in the lantern room.
The Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse helped turn the lighthouse grounds into a tree-lined park, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The grounds were in the past open and grassy, without many sizable trees, and Havre de Grace town records indicate that portions of the grounds behind the keeper’s dwelling were initially swampy, requiring John O’Neill to fill them in using a horse and cart.
In 1988, the non-profit group turned its attentions to the keeper’s house, after the state acquired the property that year and turned it over to the city. As the dwelling had been significantly altered during its lifetime, the Friends commissioned a study of the house’s history and original architecture, which was a vital step given the Maryland Historic Trust’s very strict standards for restorations. Between 1988 and 1997, the structure was stabilized and modern additions were demolished, and then between 2002 and 2004, the interior of the dwelling was restored. A before and after photograph of the dwelling show the remarkable job the Friends have done. Visitors to the lighthouse and dwelling are now afforded a glimpse into the everyday lives of lighthouse keepers and their families, circa the late 1800s.
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