Digest>Archives> August 2000

Lights Out at Turkey Point

Coast Guard removes beacon from one of America’s most historically important lighthouses


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Turkey Point Lighthouse at the Elk River entrance ...
Photo by: Dawn Lovern

The lantern room at one of America’s most historically important lighthouses now stands empty and dark, its light removed by the United States Coast Guard.

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Turkey Point Lighthouse, Maryland, from a vintage ...

According to Lt. (jg) Clinton Carlson USCG, the light was removed, “Because it’s just not being used.” It seems that no one responded with positive comments to a recent Notice to Mariners, which indicated that the Coast Guard would like to discontinue the historic lighthouse. In fact, according to the Coast Guard, the Association of Maryland Pilots stated that with recent advancements in center line ranges in the Upper Chesapeake Bay, the light did not contribute to their operations.

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Fannie Salter, the last women civilian lighthouse ...

Although the local group trying to raise money to restore and maintain the lighthouse, feared that this might happen some day, they were surprised when it actually happened. However, according to John Walters, Chief, Waterways Management Section of the U.S. Coast Guard, the group was well aware of the Coast Guard’s intentions to decommission the lighthouse, although he did state, “I am not aware whether we actually advised Turkey Point Light Station, Inc. that the optic would be removed.” In a recent e-mail to Lighthouse Digest, Chief Walters said, “Since the optic is modern in all respects, the new owner of the lighthouse will be able to procure an exact duplicate if they are inclined to illuminate the lighthouse, again as a privately operated aid to navigation.”

However, the real shame here is that one of the most historically important lighthouses in the United States is now dark, an event that shames the memory of Fannie Salter who served here for 27 years as the last female lighthouse keeper in the United States.

Less than three years after arriving at Turkey Point Lighthouse, Fannie Salter’s husband, Clarence W. Salter, who was the keeper, died. Because of a government ruling at the time, which stated that women were no longer being appointed to be lighthouse keepers because the work was too strenuous, (citing the primary reason as her age—being too young to be a keeper), Fannie was left homeless and unemployed with three children to raise.

Fannie was furious at the way the government treated her, knowing full well that a woman could make just as good a lighthouse keeper as any man. And why not; this had been proven time and time again. In fact, many of America’s lighthouse keepers had been women. She appealed her case to her United States Senator, who went directly to the President for help and in 1925 President Calvin Coolidge personally appointed Fannie as the permanent keeper of the Turkey Point Lighthouse.

In 1932, when another female lighthouse keeper retired, Fannie Salter became the last female lighthouse keeper in the United States. Naturally, this brought Fannie a certain amount of fame, especially, after an article in National Geographic appeared. She was even featured in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

For 22 years, seven days a week, Fannie Salter tended the lighthouse. It wasn’t until 1943, a few years before her retirement in 1947, that the lighthouse even had electricity. She suffered undue hardships at the light: first, with no electricity. She was marooned there on numerous occasions. She is credited with saving lives, preventing shipwrecks, keeping the station in perfect running order seven days a week, as well as maintaining channel lights and other buoys in the area.

All this is just a memory now, seemingly lost and forgotten by today’s modern technology. The Turkey Point Lighthouse, which was the site of the last female lighthouse keeper in the United States, has lost its light, and thus one of the most historically important lighthouses of United States lighthouse and maritime history has been snuffed out.

Contributions to restore and maintain the Turkey Point Lighthouse and build a replica of the Keeper’s House can be sent to:

Turkey Point Light Station, Inc.

Box 412

North East, MD 21901-0412

This story appeared in the August 2000 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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