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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: Kirk E. Ranzetta, 04/2000
Piney Point Coast Guard Light Station
Inventory No.: SM-270
Date Listed: 6/16/1976
Location: Hurry Road (MD 498) , Piney Point, Saint Marys County
Category: Structure
Period/Date of Construction: 1836
Architect/Builder: Builder: John Donahoo
Description: The Piney Point Coast Guard Light Station consists of a conical brick light tower and a brick keeper's quarters with a shallow gable roof. The lighthouse is a conical structure of brick painted white, 30' high. The focal plane of the light was 34' above the base. A 9-sided cupola constructed of metal with rectangular glass panes surmounts the brick tower. This is covered with a standing-seam metal roof capped with a large ventilator ball. An iron railing, 40" high, runs along the edge of the cantilevered masonry parapet walkway. Access to the cupola is gained by means of a circular wood stairway which occupies the entire core of the structure. The stairwell is lit by 6/6 sash windows. Interesting early iron hardware remains on the heavy entrance door. Though the Fresnel lens has been removed, the appearance of the structure is essentially as constructed in 1836. The keeper's quarters is a brick constructed building, 34' x 20', with a 15' x 11' wing of stuccoed frame construction. Two stories over a full basement, the keeper's quarters has undergone radical interior alterations which have obliterated original conditions. The building has a shallow gable roof of standing-seam metal. A one-story porch extends across the northwest (entrance) facade. As constructed by John Donahoo in 1836, the keeper's quarters was a tiny one-story brick building of three rooms. This was enlarged in 1884 by the addition of a second story. At one time, the property also included a fog signal house, an oilhouse, a storehouse, and an outhouse. Significance: Constructed in 1836, Piney Point was the first lighthouse built on the Potomac River. John Donahoo, constructor of several lighthouses in the Chesapeake Bay area, erected this structure at a cost of about $5,000. The property on which the lighthouse was constructed was acquired in fee simple from Henry Suter and Charlotte Suter, his wife, by warranty deed dated 24 December 1835 for $300. The lighthouse was erected to replace a lightship which had been in operation at the site since 1821 to warn mariners of dangerous shoals at Piney Point and across the Potomac at Ragged Point. In 1855, the old reflecting apparatus--ten lamps and ten 15" reflectors with a visibility of 10 miles--was replaced with a more efficient 5th-order Fresnel lens, increasing the light's visibility a full mile. In 1880, a 30' bell tower was added to the station to protect mariners from fog. This fog bell had an automatic striking device. A square frame tapering tower with 4/4 sash windows in gable-roofed dormers piercing the sides, the fog bell tower was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Piney Point was a busy recreation area for Southern Marylanders between 1820 and 1910. President James Monroe maintained a cottage at Piney Point, known as "The Summer White House." A hotel was in operation until closing due to damage sustained during the hurricane of 1933. Piney Point Light continued as a manned station under the lighthouse service until the incorporation of that service into the Coast Guard in 1939. Piney Point became a testing range for torpedoes during World War II. Following the war, the Naval Torpedo Test Center and Range was decommissioned and the base became known as the Pane Hall Center of the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship. The Coast Guard discontinued the light in 1964. The property is now owned by the St. Mary's County Department of Recreation and Parks and is open to the public.


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