Hooper Strait Lighthouse
St. Michaels, Maryland


Historic Significance Score: 4

The Hooper Strait Lighthouse currently located at the Chesapeake Maritime Museum originally stood close to 40 miles south at the mouth of Tangier Sound.

The lighthouse, established in 1867 standing alone out in the bay, stood for less than a decade as harsh winter weather and the pressure of mounting ice against the pilings (legs) under the wooden structure finally caused the house to be separated from its base and drift out into the Chesapeake Bay in 1877.

The keepers at that time escaped the drifting structure by a small fishing boat but faced a harsh overnight fight for survival against frostbite on the freezing bay. When finally rescued, head light keeper John S. Cornwell proclaimed that he would be ready to resume his duty the second a replacement lighthouse was established.

Cornwell would fulfill his promise, as work began on a new Hooper Strait Lighthouse in 1879. By the end of the year, Cornwell had his commission back. The new lighthouse utilized a designed called a "screw pile" fastening. The leg-mounts on which the lighthouse would stand would be "screwed" into the floor of the Chesapeake Bay, providing a stronger and more secure base for the lighthouse.

In the 1950's the lighthouse at Hooper Strait was automated. It was decommissioned in 1966, leaving the historic landmark open to vandalism and sea corrosion.

The same year, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum saved the structure from being demolished by purchasing it and relocating it to its open-air museum site. The move was accomplished by cutting the lighthouse into smaller parts and barging them up the channel, where they would be reassembled.

Today the Hooper Strait Lighthouse is the most popular attraction at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and lighthouse-lovers are indebted to the organization for saving this lighthouse.

Hooper Strait is one of only three existing, authentic screw-pile lighthouses in America!

Majesty Score: 4

Hooper Straight Lighthouse has above-average majesty. Its extremely unique sexton shape and multiple floors all elevated off ground level by its steel piles legs gives the lighthouse an impressive presence. The lighthouse has one of the strongest characters of the many lighthouses we have visited to date.

It really serves as the centerpiece of the Chesapeake Maritime Museum.

Water View Score: 3

The water view at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is a nice one. The light sits on the edge of the property and a wraparound porch on the main level of the light and a wraparound balcony on the lens level of the light really lend themselves to enjoying the small, busy inlet by providing an elevated view.

Preservation Score: 3

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has really done an outstanding job preserving this lighthouse. The lighthouse shows obvious signs of wear, but it is still preserved well enough for all to enjoy.

The interior of the lighthouse is set up with period furniture and artifacts for the lighthouse keepers' era. (See last picture below)

Surrounding Area Score: 4

St. Michaels, a quaint Chesapeake Bay town that the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the Hooper Strait Lighthouse call home, will satisfy many different interests.

For history buffs, the town is very rich in history and coastal lore.

For history buffs, the town is very rich in history and coastal lore. Known as "The Town the Fooled the British," legend has it that when the British fleet targeted the small town for destruction in 1812 because it was an active shipbuilding center with ties to the U.S. Navy, the defenseless small town relied on its wits to outsmart the powerful British fleet. The town hung lanterns high atop ships' masts and in towering trees so the town's horizon would appear higher than it really was to attacking ships out at sea. The British fleet launched a massive attack against the seaside town, consistently overshooting the town due to miscalculation of the town's visual base line. Through the night of bombardment not a single house was struck, except for one house owned by the Merchant family. Legend continues that the lone successful cannonball entered the house through the upstairs and then rolled down the stairs inside the house to a startled Mrs. Merchant and her child. To this day the Merchant house has become affectionately known as the "Cannonball House."

In addition to rich history, the town of St. Michaels features culinary delights that would please the most demanding palates. The name Chesapeake actually comes from a Native American word meaning "great shellfish bay." This town lives up to its name!

Talbot Street, a few blocks long and the main street in town pictured above, features nationally recognized restaurants that prepare the indigenous Maryland blue crab as perfect as you can enjoy. More and more of these five-star restaurants are popping up in St. Michaels as the town's heritage has shifted from fishing with seafood in nets and cages to tourism with seafood on plates.

Fear not, though -- those on a more practical budget can enjoy Maryland crab cakes -- with a splash of mustard baked in -- and steamed crabs at many casual restaurants in town as well. The town features some of the best crab cakes we have ever had.

The excellent restaurants in town are equally matched by the excellence of the bed-and-breakfasts and inns that provide a great weekend or summer getaway for tourists looking for an enjoyable interlude. Talbot Street is lined with these beautiful inns as well as charming boutiques for shopping.

Finally, St. Michaels offers an antiquing paradise, as countless antique shops in the area lend themselves to a day of lazy browsing for that ancient treasure. Canton Row Antiques features a small mall with close to 20 dealers. This is just one of the many antique locations around the town and county. Antique aficionados will love St. Michaels!

Accessibility Score: 5

Hooper Strait has absolutely great access! The maritime museum is open daily. For an admission fee of $9 you can have complete access to the grounds and, more importantly, the lighthouse. The lighthouse complex draws close to 100,000 visitors a year.

The lighthouse has three floors, including a base floor that historically provided the main living space to the keeper. This section has multiple huge, 200-gallon water basins that collected rainwater while the lighthouse was out on the bay for consumption by the keeper.

One of the more whimsical and historically intact pieces on the lighthouse is the elevated outhouse, which hangs over the edge of the balcony on the first floor. While serving out on the bay, keepers did not have to worry about cesspools.

The second floor has a fog bell with a mechanism that worked similar to a grandfather clock. The keepers would wind the bell up tightly and the heavy weights would descend through cutouts in the floor as a hammer would strike the bell at systematic intervals.

The second floor also currently houses a beautiful, freestanding third-order Fresnel lens and a smaller Fresnel lens encased in glass.

Finally, the top floor of the lighthouse has an operating fourth-order Fresnel lens. Visitors have complete access to the lens room and can get really close to the lens.

An additional treat on the grounds for lighthouse fans is that the museum houses the Potomac River Bell and tower as seen in the photo on the right.

If for some reason you cannot make the maritime museum during operating hours, the grounds are open free of charge after the museum closes at night. The major drawback is that you will not have internal access to any of the buildings, including the lighthouse. It is recommended that you visit during museum hours. It will make a big difference in your visit.

In addition to the preserved Hooper Strait Lighthouse, the museum also showcases a huge collection of decoys, a working boatyard and an interactive waterman's shanty.

Beacon Score: 4

The restored Hooper Strait Lighthouse is a bonanza for lighthouse lovers who love Fresnel lenses. The lens currently in the light tower is a fourth-order Fresnel that "blinks" out the Morse code of "C"..."B"..."M"..."M" -- the acronym for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

As mentioned, inside the lighthouse there is a beautiful third-order Fresnel lens, and an additional fourth-order Fresnel lens is in a display case.

There are very few places in America that you can actually climb into a lantern room with a working Fresnel lens and get as close as you can get as the Hooper Strait Lighthouse. It is something to be enjoyed!

Overall Score and Overview: 27

Hooper Strait Lighthouse is a great lighthouse trip! It is really an absolute necessity for those who want to learn about lighthouse keepers and their lives on the Chesapeake Bay.

The town of St. Michaels is also a treat with its many fine restaurants and cozy bed-and-breakfasts. We would suggest doing your prep work prior to the trip to really distinguish the best restaurants and lodging. The town is only a few blocks long but the choices are many. It is really a great place to experience the Chesapeake culture.

It is an absolute must that you experience Maryland blue crab steamed or in the great crab cakes that many restaurants serve in the area. A quick ride to neighboring Oxford is also recommended for a bayside dinner.

Between experiencing Chesapeake Lighthouse history via the Hooper Strait Lighthouse and the indigenous foods, you will get a glimpse into this great area of the country!

Directions: Take Route 50 into Easton, MD. After airport make a right onto Route 322. About 2 miles later, turn right(west) onto Route 33 and follow into St. Michaels (about 9 miles). Route 33 becomes Talbot Street, the main street in the town, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is at the far end of town off this street. You will make a right off Talbot St. and drive under an inactive drawbridge as the entrance to the museum.

Hooper Strait Lighthouse's Official Web Page

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