Chesapeake Classic: Point Lookout Lighthouse

The Most Haunted Lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay? Point Lookout Lighthouse

Bay sailors familiar with the area where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay may recognize Point Lookout Lighthouse. Located in St. Mary’s County, MD, the historical light marks the entrance to the Potomac River at the southernmost tip of Maryland’s western shore. A beacon was first considered for this spot in 1825, when Congress appropriated $1800 for the project and the land-holder at the time was paid $1150 for the property. Maryland lighthouse builder John Donahoo, who built several lighthouses in the Chesapeake, was awarded the contract. 

Point Lookout with the windmill in 1930. Photo courtesy USCG
Point Lookout with the windmill in 1930. Photo courtesy USCG

The original land-holder, Jenifer Taylor, had offered to sell his land at a lower price under the condition that he would be appointed the first keeper. But the role was instead given to James Davis, and Point Lookout was first lit on September 30, 1830.

Only two months into his duty, Davis died, and his daughter, Ann Davis, took over as keeper. For 17 years, she proved a capable stewardess of the light until her death in 1847. She was succeeded by William Wood, who proved to be a less-capable keeper. Among his indiscretions were contaminating almost 60 gallons of valuable lamp fuel after a cat fell into the barrel. A second female keeper, Pamelia Edwards, served for 14 years (1855-1869), four of which were during the American Civil War, which would leave a lasting and painful mark on the region.

Point Lookout Lighthouse and the Civil War

Before the 1861 outbreak of the Civil War, the lighthouse had received several upgrades, including a paint job, a new fence around the structure, and a fourth-order Fresnel lens which was placed in the lantern room in 1857. 

In 1862, the U.S. government leased a portion of land on the point to build Hammond General Hospital for wounded Union soldiers. By 1863, 4000 Confederate prisoners, primarily residents of southern Maryland, began to be imprisoned at the hospital. A year later, the number of prisoners had risen to more than 20,000. Union forces began constructing forts and prison camps on the point, though max capacity was only 10,000 and conditions were brutal. The well water was unsafe to drink, living quarters were filthy and overcrowded, and during the winter, many perished from exposure. It is estimated that nearly 4000 Confederate soldiers died at Point Lookout and were buried near the lighthouse grounds. Because of this gruesome history, Point Lookout is considered one of the most haunted lighthouses in America. 

Point Lookout Lighthouse Today. Photo by Kaylie Jasinski
Point Lookout Lighthouse circa 2016. Photo by Kaylie Jasinski

Post-Civil War history

After the war, more upgrades were made to the lighthouse station: a fog bell tower was built in 1872, an extra story was added to the keeper’s dwelling, and in 1888 another bell tower was erected on the site. That tower can now be found on the grounds of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD. 

In 1939, the station was transferred to the Coast Guard, though civilian keepers continued to watch over the lighthouse for several years. In 1965, the station was turned over to the U.S. Navy and Point Lookout Lighthouse was replaced by an offshore steel tower. The lighthouse was turned over to the State of Maryland in 2006 and Laura Berg, who lived briefly at the station during the 80s, co-founded the Point Lookout Lighthouse Preservation Society in order to restore the property to its 1927 state. Check out for more information.

This article, written by Kaylie Jasinski, was published originally by SpinSheet in 2016.

2023 Point Lookout Lighthouse Update

Beginning in the summer of 2018, a large-scale renovation project was started by the State of Maryland to restore the lighthouse to its appearance in the 1920s. The project included extensive exterior and interior renovations to the main building, as well as a complete restoration to the historic 1880s buoy and coal sheds. The construction portion of these renovations concluded in late 2020. Exhibits are now being added for a full educational experience for visitors. Check here for updated visitor information.

For more articles about cruising on the Chesapeake Bay, including interesting destinations such as Point Lookout, click here.