|Craighill Channel Lower Range Front Beacon|
In 1873, the Craighill Channel Lower Front Range Lighthouse was built and is considered a greater feat of engineering than its predecessor, the Duxbury Lighthouse (the first caisson lighthouse built in 1872), as it was built in deeper water under more difficult conditions. The caisson type quickly became the preferred type of lighthouse to be built in climates where ice floe damage was a possibility. The front range light is unusual for having two lights and is the only known extant example in Chesapeake Bay. A red beacon light is fixed above the gallery deck which serves as the front light for the range and a light in the lantern serves as a general aid to navigation.
Upon initiation of construction of the front range lighthouse in the summer of 1873 it was found there was no firm strata within 60 feet of the water surface. Additional costs in preparing the foundation led Congress to appropriate another $20,000 on March 3, 1873, and a final $45,000 on June 23, 1874, to complete the range lighthouses. To achieve a stable foundation, a ten-foot-deep portion of the mud layer was dredged away and wooden piles driven. A steam operated circular saw was used to cut the tops of the piles at a depth of 23 feet below low water. The saw was attached to a hollow wrought-iron shaft which was held in a vertical position in a frame. The saw was set at a determined depth by means of marks on the shaft and fixed marks on the temporary construction pier built around the site. Even with caution, the blind use of the saw under water did not permit an even cut and some piles stood higher than others. A diver was employed who "spiked" hardwood chocks onto the low piles to provide a relative uniform level surface.
A hardwood caisson crib, constructed at Havre de Grace, Maryland, was made of four layers of 12-inch timbers connected by barbed bolts. The first course of cast-iron cylinder plates were bolted to it and was towed to the site. As a result of difficulty in managing it in a gale wind, it was taken to harbor and two more courses of cast iron plate added. Then three feet of concrete was poured into the iron cylinder to give it better ballast. It then floated evenly. In October 1873, the first attempt to place the caisson in position over the piles failed. On the second try a 12-foot-square and about 22-feet-high structure capable of holding about 160 tons was built inside the caisson to hold gravel making it easier to remove and partially re-float again if the caisson was not properly positioned. The assembly was successfully repositioned on October 31, 1873, the gravel removed, the box removed, and the square void filled with concrete. A temporary fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed on November 20, 1873, on a temporary wood structure built on top of the caisson. The remaining iron work completing the tower was finished in March 1874 and 5,000 tons of stone rip rap was added around the structure to prevent scouring. This was replaced the following year by the final, small, circular iron dwelling and light tower which was completed in October 1874.
The station has never suffered ice damage despite it being located in a very exposed position; however the station was once abandoned and the light extinguished on February 11, 1936, because of dangerous ice conditions. It was not relit till February 24. In 1899 the station received "new model fifth-order lamps." A fog bell operated by gas was established at the station in 1923. The light was changed from oil to electric on November 26, 1929. The fog signal was changed to an air whistle on October 24, 1932. In 1938 the light was described as having a Reynolds flasher to produce the one-second flash with two-second eclipse. A spare fourth-order "wick lamp" was kept as a backup. Oil was stored in a 225-gallon tank kept in the cellar. The fog signal was a number 4 Typhone Horn with an eight-inch-diameter whistle, which gave a three-second blast every 27 seconds. A backup Gamewell weight-driven clock mechanism produced a double strike every 30 seconds. The weight had to be rewound every hour and a half. The fog bell was a standard 1000-pound bell.
Water was collected from the roof and stored in two steel 500-gallon tanks. The station had a 18-foot "motor boat" and a 16-foot "skiff" hung from davits. There was a keeper and an assistant until the station was automated on May 5, 1964.
The front lighthouse of the lower range works in conjunction with the rear lighthouse, which with a height of 105 feet is one of the highest towers in the Chesapeake Bay. The light has a 250,000 candlepower intensity. Because of the rear range light's height, pilots can easily see it when coming from a direction outside the range.
The front light was used as a radio-telephone station by the Coast Guard, so was manned into the 1960s. It was finally automated in 1964. Both lights remain active aids to navigation.
A "Notice of Avaibility" was issued for the Craighill Channel Front Light Station under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 (NHLPA) during the Fall 2002 National Pilot Program. Two non-profit organizations applied to take ownership and become the stewards of the lightstation. Historical Place Preservation, Inc. was awarded a letter of recommendation by the Secretary of the Department of Interior in July 2005 after successfully completing the lengthy application process. Conveyance of title of the Craighill Channel Lower Range Front Beacon was completed in November 2005.
Another Chesapeake Bay lighthouse and icon, Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse was also listed under the Fall 2002 National Pilot Program of the NHLPA and ultimately awarded to a public/private partnership formed in 2004.
Craighill Channel Lower Range Rear Beacon (Millers Island Light)
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