Volume XII, Issue 1 ~ January 1-7, 2004

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2004: A Beaming Beginning

It’s not every day you get to bring home a lighthouse. Even Calvert Marine Museum, which owns more lighthouses than anybody we know of — one working, one standing and the relics of a third — has gone a couple of years without adding another to its collection.

So the city council’s vote to make Annapolis home to Thomas Point Lighthouse makes this new year bright and special.

In a sense Thomas Point Lighthouse, which stands at the entrance to the South River, has always belonged to Annapolis. In maritime circles, when you see the Thomas Point screwpile, you know you’re coming home. But the historic sentinel along the long and dangerous shoal south of Annapolis Neck was federal property, administered by the Department of the Interior. What’s more, it has become surplus property, lately put out for lease as the U.S. Coast Guard divested itself of some 300 sightly but archaic aids to navigation.

Other potential bidders, among them Chesapeake Bay Foundation, deferred to a partnership of the city, Annapolis Maritime Museum and the not-for-profit United States Lighthouse Society. Theirs was the only bid, and they made a good team.

The Lighthouse Society, which will sublease Thomas Point from the city, has the know-how to preserve the 1875 landmark. A city built and increasingly sold on history adds a rare and newly accessible asset to its cultural heritage. And the Annapolis Maritime Museum gets a place to call its own.

No, the fledgling museum, left homeless by Isabel, won’t move offshore to the lighthouse. But Thomas Point will give it a place to focus its energies and give tourists new opportunity to see their way clear to Chesapeake Bay. Boat trips from City Dock and interpretation on land are promised.

Good as all that sounds, we’ve waited since August for the deal to be consummated.

Cost was the issue. At $1, the price was right, but the Coast Guard estimated maintenance costs at $5,000 per year. Skeptics worried about potential liability as well as far higher unanticipated costs of maintaining a 128-year-old structure.

But in a 7–2 vote Christmas week, the city council overcame skepticism and gave our capital city a bright and shining holiday gift.

In a month or so, there’ll be a ceremony to celebrate as the 30-year renewable lease is officially handed over. But here and now, we can’t find a brighter omen for a new year.

As Louis Goldstein, Maryland’s late, wise comptroller, might have said, “It’s a good investment because they’re not making any more lighthouses.”



© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated December 31, 2003 @ 9:12pm.