By John Cowgill
The Chesapeake Bay region has many coves and rivers that feed into its waters. Among those is the Potomac River, which divides the states of Maryland and Virginia.
Along both sides of the river are many rivers and creeks that flow into it, and many of the early settlers arrived by boats to settle among these waterways. As time went on, lighthouses were built to help boats and ships navigate the waters to avoid running aground. One of these lighthouses was built in 1936 on Piney Point on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.
The Piney Point Lighthouse was erected to help guide the ships as they were heading up to the ports of Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, which was at one time the fifth busiest port in the colonies. There was a lightkeeper who kept the light burning, particularly at night and during foggy conditions.
The lightkeeper lived in a house that was close to the lighthouse itself. Some lived alone, while others had families who assisted in keeping the light shining. With the erection of the beacon (which were places in the waterway itself), most of the lighthouses became obsolete. With less ship traffic going to Washington and Alexandria, instead going to the ports of Baltimore and Norfolk, the Piney Point Lighthouse was put on the list of obsolete lighthouses.
Today, you can visit the Piney Point Lighthouse, which has not been moved from its original location. You can climb the lighthouse, which is only two stories high. (It is not wheelchair accessible.) You can walk through the lightkeeper’s house (also not wheelchair accessible) and see where the lightkeeper lived. One of the great things about being at a lighthouse is the views of the water There is a pier that visitors can walk onto (wheelchair accessible) and see what the lightkeeper would have seen.
Visiting the Lighthouse
The former lightkeepers did not have the opportunity to visit the Potomac River Maritime exhibit, but you can. (It is wheelchair accessible.) Visitors can see how the people on the waterways of Southern Maryland (and parts of Virginia) lived, and can read into the harvesting of oysters, which is still a big industry in the region today. Visitors can see four boats and two skipjacks. (Skipjacks are wooden sailing boats which are common in Maryland, mainly in the Chesapeake Bay.)
Visitors can also see a small museum, where they can look into the lighthouse and learn about the role of the U.S. Coast Guard in the region and read about a German submarine that was sunk in the area.
The Piney Point Lighthouse is owned and operated by Saint Mary’s County, Maryland and is a county site. It is located at 44720 Lighthouse Road in Piney Point, Maryland, off Maryland Route 249. (Follow the signs from Maryland Route 5.) The lighthouse is on a peninsula surrounded by water, and you will need to pass through the town of Piney Point to access the lighthouse. (Speed limit is 25.) Admission is required to enter the lighthouse, lightkeeper’s house, and museum. Parking is on site. You can learn more about the Piney Point Lighthouse and the hours at stmarysmd.com/recreate/PPL/.
The Piney Point Lighthouse is a great place to visit. Visitors will enjoy the history and the beauty the lightkeepers enjoyed. When you do visit, know that they will leave the light on… for you.
John Cowgill writes about regional destinations for Prince William Living.