Turkey Point Light Station
A Proud History And A Bright Future
One Hundred and seventy eight years ago a small piece of ground was purchased to build a light station along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. The original light tower and oil house that were once part of the Turkey Point Light Station remain prominent landmarks for area boaters, hikers and tourist.
Turkey Point Lighthouse is located on four acres of ground easily accessed by land in the Elk Neck State Park , Cecil County, Maryland. The light tower is situated on a 100-foot bluff that overlooks the Elk and North East rivers in the upper Chesapeake Bay.
Plans for the lighthouse began as early as 1812, by the U.S Lighthouse Service, known today as the United States Coast Guard. In 1832, ground was purchased by the Federal Government to build the lighthouse . Turkey Point Light Station would require a house and additional buildings in order to maintain a family. John Donohoo of Havre de Grace, Maryland, a prolific builder of lighthouses on the Chesapeake, was hired to build the light station that was completed in 1833.
The purpose of its tiny beacon of light was to guide and give ships' captains time to change their navigational course into the mouth of the newly completed C & D Canal. The lighthouse contained a fourth order Fresnel lens that was imported from France.
In the early days before electricity, three brass oil lamps had to be cleaned and filled daily. The lighthouse only required one lamp; an additional lamp was kept ready for emergency service and a third was used by light keepers going to and from the light tower during hours of darkness. The last oil lamp to be used was an aladdin oil lamp because of its superior bright light.
Today, most visitors see the beautiful view down the bay, watch sailboats silently navigate the point, or watch geese and swans fly overhead and think, "How wonderful it must have been to be a light keeper at Turkey Point." But in reality, it took a special kind of person to be a light keeper. The Fresnel prisms had to be cleaned daily and polished weekly in order to project light 13 miles down the bay. The fuel carried up the tower to the light, the wick trimmed and maintained and the lamp lit and extinguished. When the fog bell mechanism malfunctioned, the keepers had to manually ring the warning bell until it was repaired. This was a 7 day a week, 365 day a year job in all kinds of weather.
Turkey Point was an isolated light station. Some supplies came by boat from Havre de Grace. The nearest town, North East, was 12 miles away, a long distance in the pre-automotive era. This required Turkey Point to be a self sufficient homestead for the keepers. They farmed the adjacent land, hunted in the forest and harvested the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay. They were rugged people! Of the 10 keepers, 4 were women, 3 being wives who succeeded their husbands. This was before women's rights were fashionable or even considered.
In 1943, the lighthouse was electrified and had a fixed light. In 1948, the light was changed to a flashing light . Today the light is powered by a solar charged battery. Until the retirement of the last keeper, Fannie Mae Salter, in 1948, the brass lamps were maintained in case the electricity failed.
The Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse and extinguished the lamp in April 2000. The lighthouse was re-lit in 2002 and is currently a "Private Aid to Navigation."
In 2005 the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with Turkey Point Light Station, Inc, (a non-profit organization that has maintained the lighthouse since 1995), applied to the Federal Government for ownership. In 2006 ownership was transferred to the Maryland DNR. Elk Neck State Park and TPLS, Inc. will continue to maintain and improve the lighthouse for future generations.
An estimated 40,000 tourists from around the world take the 1.6 mile round trip hike to the lighthouse annually. April through November, TPLS, Inc. volunteers open the lighthouse and delight visitors with the colorful history of Turkey Point Light Station. Visitors might see an ocean-going ship making its way through from the C & D Canal, enjoy a picnic, or take a photograph, or a breath-taking sunset. It all adds up to a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Maryland's beautiful nature and rich history. Since 2005, Turkey Point Light Station, Inc. has been busy making improvements and maintaining the lighthouse. Please check out our Project Page to see what we have been up to.
Author: Mike W. Duvall
Please note that our hours of operation are dependent upon weather conditions and the availability of volunteers