In what may be a last ditch effort that could lead to the eventual restoration of Baltimore Maryland’s historic Fort Carroll, the State of Maryland has applied to have the fort placed on the National Register of Historic Places. They apparently believe that the National Register status will help them in securing federal funds and grant money for the historic site. But, all this will take time, time that may run out to save the Fort Carroll Lighthouse that sits atop the fort.
Established in 1854, the lighthouse was built to mark the turn from the Brewerton Channel to the Fort McHenry Channel. The first lighthouse structure built there was demolished in 1898 and replaced by the structure that still stands there today. The lighthouse keeper lived in a house on the grounds of the fort. The lighthouse was automated in 1920 and its keeper was removed. In 1964 the lighthouse was deactivated and abandoned, and left to the elements.
Although the Fort Carroll Lighthouse was never considered a major aid to navigation, because of its amazing links to history the abandoned lighthouse may very well be the most historically significant endangered lighthouse in the United States. Here’s why.
Construction of the fort was started by Robert E. Lee, who later became a general in the War Between the States.
The fort and the lighthouse were named for Charles Carroll who, at the time of the construction of the fort, was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The lighthouse sits within close sight of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, named after the author of the National Anthem.
It is near Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key saw that the stars and stripes were still flying after the Battle of Baltimore on September 13-14, 1814, during the War of 1812, which inspired him to write the Star Spangled Banner.
It is near the site where, every year since 1914, the Coast Guard has placed the “Francis Scott Key Commemorative Buoy,” which is painted red, white, and blue to resemble the American flag. The buoy is placed in the approximate spot where Francis Scott Key penned the words to the National Anthem.
Two other forts, Fort Sumter and Fort Pulaski which were built of similar design, are maintained by the National Park Service, while Fort Carroll has been all but forgotten.
Although the fort saw no action, it was used by the military during the War Between the States, The Spanish American War, and World War I. The military abandoned the fort in 1920.
In 1958 the fort, which included the lighthouse, was sold to Benjamin N. Eisenberg. Eisenberg spent a good deal of money in trying to save the fort, but it soon became obvious that the fort would need to generate income to maintain it. Over the years, many plans were proposed to save and restore the fort and some almost came about, but for a variety of reasons, they all failed.
The problem now is that the trees are growing through the brick masonry of the fort and, if the roofs of the fort collapse, it could be the end of the fort. The other problem is the nesting birds; estimates state there are as many as 4,000 in season. Any development and restoration of the fort will require a plan that can work in harmony with the birds.
However, unless the wooden lighthouse is stabilized very soon, it will surely collapse. As more and more boards from the siding fall off the lighthouse, it becomes increasingly weaker. The fact that it is still standing after so many years with no maintenance is somewhat of a miracle in itself!
Perhaps the day will come when the fort is restored and the island is opened to the public, but, by that time, it may be too late for the Fort Carroll Lighthouse.
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2013 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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