Hooper Strait lies between Bloodworth Island and Hooper
Island in Dorchester County, MD. In 1608 Captain John Smith
called the passage Limbo Strait after weathering a storm in the
area. The first settlers arrived in the early 17th century.
The strait was marked by a lightship in 1827. The first lightship
displayed a fixed white light visible 10 miles. The lightship served until
a lighthouse was lit on September 14, 1867. The new lighthouse was
built on the bay on sleeve piles - wooden piles driven into the mud and
encased in cast iron.
The sleeve pile light lasted only 10 years before it succumbed to
the ice of the Chesapeake. On January 8, 1877, ice began to accumulate
alongside the lighthouse. On the 11th, a gale blew more ice against the
light to the point that the dwelling was separated from the piles. The
lighthouse quickly filled with water to the roof, and drifted out into
the bay. Keepers John Cornwell and Alexander Conway later reported that
they "did not have time to save anything but ourselves."
The two keepers recovered a wooden boat from the ice, and spent
24 hours dragging the boat across the ice, with virtually no shelter
from the storm. They were finally rescued by Captain Murphy of
Billys Island, and left the boat. The keepers were OK, but had no
way of communicating their condition.
On January 13, the lighthouse superintendent in Baltimore received word
that a lighthouse was drifting in the bay. The dwelling came to rest
four miles west-northwest of its original location in seven fathoms
of water. The tenders Heliotrope and Tulip were dispatched
to the wreck, where they began to salvage what they could. The lens,
lantern, fog bell, and machinery were all recovered. The keepers, however,
After a week, the keepers had still not been heard from. The wooden boat was
found, suggesting that the keepers may have escaped. Finally, on January 25,
the keepers were able to telegraph their whereabouts. Keeper Cornwell apologized for
their inability to save anything from the dwelling, as well as failing to
submit the quarterly report, which was completed but lost with the station.
Keeper Cornwell also stated "Should there be another house erected, or a
boat place in the site of the old one, Capt. Conway and myself will be ready
to take charge of it..."
The 1867 lighthouse was replaced by a screwpile, built with an appropriation
of $20,000. The hexagonal screwpile was first lit on October 15, 1879.
The lighthouse displayed a fixed white fifth-order lens. A red panel was added in 1882
to guide mariners around shoals near Tangier Sound. The light was automated
in 1954, and fell victim to neglect and vandals. In 1966, the Hooper Strait
light was scheduled for demolition - the dwelling was to be destroyed, and a
simple automated light placed on the foundation.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, upon hearing of the plans,
purchased the building from the demolition contractor for $1000. Plans were made
to transport the lighthouse 60 miles from Hooper Strait to Navy Point in St. Michaels.
$12,500 was raised by the Historical Society of Talbot County, and another
$14,000 by the Arundel Corporation from the US Treasury - the expected demolition
cost. On November 6, 1966, a barge arrived at Hooper Strait.
The lighthouse was cut in half right under the eaves and transported to St. Michaels.
On November 9, the dwelling was placed on a newly constructed foundation,
and reassembled. Today the beautifully restored
lighthouse is a favorite attraction at the museum.
Bay Beacons, Turbyville pp. 44-47
The Lighthouses of the Chesapeake, de Gast p. 127
Lighting the Bay: Tales of Chesapeake Lighthouses, Vojtech pp. 31-34, 151-2, 169
Mid-Atlantic Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones p. 64