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Maryland's National Register Properties

Tour: Lighthouses (5 of 8)

Photo credit: Heather R. Davidson, 1993
Sharps Island Light
Inventory No.: T-477
Date Listed: 10/29/1982
Location: Chesapeake Bay , Tilghman, Talbot County
Category: Structure
Period/Date of Construction: 1882
Description: The first light at Sharps Island was a small wooden house with lamp housing on top, 30' above the ground on the northwest tip of the island. With the threat of further erosion of the island, a new screwpile structure was erected approximately one mile east of the previous position. In 1881, the house was carried away by ice, causing the need for a third structure. The third and present structure is a 14' diameter steel shell over brick, on a 30' diameter steel caisson having four stories plus the light tower and a basement. The interior was much like some of the other caisson towers built on the Bay, consisting of kitchen, O-I-C Quarters, watch room and quarters for two assigned watchstanders. The 54' high brown tower, which was once painted purple, is situated in 10 feet of water. The nominal visibility is 10 miles to sea. On October 1, 1957, the light was converted from 10V battery pack to electricity. The light started to lean as early as 1973 and leans even further as the result of extremely heavy ice in the winter of 1976. The 4th order lens was removed May 3, 1977, and replaced with a 250 MM plastic lens. The installed fog alarm system sounds from 15 September to 1 June. Significance: The Sharps Island Light was required to guide mariners away from the shoals off Poplar Island and Black Walnut Point. The Lighthouse Service decided on the location even though it was known from earlier maps and charts that the island was suffering severe erosion, having diminished from 700 acres in 1675 to 480 acres in 1838 when the first light was built. An act by the Maryland General Assembly on April 6, 1874, provided for "the relinquishment to the United States, title and jurisdiction over land for sites of lighthouses, beacons and other aids." Ten acres of land was acquired by deed in fee simple and in consideration of the sum of $600.00 from Joseph A. Reynolds and his wife Ann, on August 13, 1837, for the construction of the first light. The structure built by Thomas Evans was designed so it could be easily moved in the event that the severe erosion of the island further threatened the light. As anticipated by the Lighthouse Service, the light was in fact threatened and plans were made to relocate the light. A tract of land measuring 10.2 acres assessed at a value of $1,022.00 was acquired by condemnation on June 13, 1848. By this time the size of the island had decreased to 438 acres. In 1864 the Lighthouse Board reported to Congress that "the lighthouse at Sharps Island in Chesapeake Bay is in imminent danger of being destroyed by the washing away of the bank on which it stands." The absence of the usually severe winter in 1865 granted the lighthouse a reprieve. In 1866 a second structure was built but it too was ill fated. On February 10, 1881, the house was lifted from its foundation and carried away by the heavy moving ice floes. The following year, in 1882, the present lighthouse was built on a five acre circular plot deeded from the State of Maryland on February 16, 1878. A 1950 U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey chart showed the island to be about 300 yards long near the center. There is nothing in the records on hand to indicate the size of the island at the time the light was automated in August 1951. The site was visited by a Coast Guard Survey Board on August 3, 1955. Their report states the island had diminished to about 300 yards. The total acquired acreage (25.2) was deeded back to the State of Maryland by deed dated October 8, 1957, to clear the real estate records. The island has completely disappeared. The light is presently serving as an unmanned aid to mariners in the area.
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