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Blakistone Island Light

July 9, 2019
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Blakistone Island Light, St. Clement's Island, Potomac River, Maryland

BLAKISTONE ISLAND LIGHT

Name of Lighthouse:  Blakistone Island
Location:  Saint Clement’s Island, off Colton’s Point in the Potomac River
Date Built: 1851
Type of Structure:  Brick keepers dwelling with lantern rising through the center of the roof
Builder: John Donahoo
Appropriation: $4,535
Status:  No longer standing

Historical Information: 

  • Blakistone Island was originally named Saint Clement’s Island and Saint Clements is the name it is known by now.  This was the site of the landing of the ships the Arc of London and the Dove which brought the first English settlers to found the Maryland colony in 1634.  A settlement was temporarily founded, but the colony was soon moved to Saint Mary’s City.  At that time the Island was over 400 acres.  The island was farmed for many years and was owned for a while by the Blakistone family, during which time it was temporarily re-named.  After several years of receiving petitions for a light at the island Congress appropriated $3,500 in 1848.  After a delay caused by problems gaining title to the land, construction bids were solicited.  The low bidder was John Dohahoo, who was awarded the contract at a cost of $4,535.  The structure was a two story brick dwelling, with a light tower rising from the ground through the center of the building, and sat on a two acre point of land at the southern tip of the island.  The iron lantern sat on a base of sandstone. It was completed in December of 1851.
  • The light is particularly famous for an event that took place during the Civil War.  In 1864 CSA Captain John Goldsmith, who had once owned the island himself, led a raiding party to the Island.  The Confederates destroyed the lens and confiscated the oil, then intended to blow up the lighthouse.  The keeper, Jerome McWilliams, whom Captain Goldsmith knew, was successful in convincing the raiders not to destroy the structure because his wife was in an advanced stage of pregnancy.  He argued that leaving them homeless would threaten the lives of both her and the baby.
  • In 1919 the island was purchased by the U.S. Navy.  Many of the trees and buildings were razed.  Piers and a landing strip were built.
  • The light was fully automated in 1932 and left unattended.  During the next couple decades it suffered a certain amount of decay through vandalism, time, and the elements.
  • On July 16, 1956 fire completely gutted the structure leaving only a burned, roofless, shell.  To this day the fire’s cause is uncertain.  However, considering it a hazard, the Navy soon demolished the remains.  The Saint Clement’s Island Potomac River Museum now sits on the mainland across from the Island.  In addition to exhibits on Maryland’s founding, the museum has a small exhibit on both the Blakistone and Rag Point Lights.  They offer boat-rides to the Island during season. 

Researched and written  by Matthew B. Jenkins, a volunteer through the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Light House Society.