Piney Point Lighthouse

Oct. 1, 2019

Piney Point Lighthouse, Piney Point, Potomac River, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

Built in 1836, decommissioned in 1964.


Location:  Piney Point, on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, 14 miles from its mouth.
Date Built:  1836
Type of Structure:  Conical brick tower with detached keepers dwelling
Height:  34 feet above mean high water
Characteristics:  Inactive (light maintained by the St. Clements Island Potomac River Museum)
Foghorn:  Fog bell tower (no longer standing)
Builder:  John Donahoo
Appropriation:  $5,000
Range:  10 miles at commissioning, 11 miles with the Fresnel lens.
Status:  Standing, but no longer an active ATON

Historical Information:  

  • This conical brick tower and one story keepers dwelling was built in 1836 by John Donahoo at a cost of $3,488 for the construction work and $400 for the lantern. (The remaining funds would have gone towards the lighting apparatus and purchase of the land.) Interestingly, Donahoo claimed to have lost money on the project. Named after the loblolly pine trees that are common in this area, this is the oldest lighthouse on the Potomac River. It is known as the “Lighthouse of Presidents” because several U.S. heads of state, beginning with James Madison and continuing through Teddy Roosevelt, spent their summers here.
  • In 1855 the old, 10 lamp / 10 reflector, Argand style lighting system was replaced with a fifth order Fresnel lens. This gave the light a range of 11 miles.
  • In 1880 a fog bell tower was constructed next to the lighthouse.
  • In 1884 the keepers dwelling was expanded with the addition of a second story, porch, and new windows.
  • In 1936 the fog bell was replaced by a reed horn (the bell being kept as a backup).
  • During World War II Piney Point was used by the Navy to test torpedoes. At the end of the war, the U.S. captured an experimental German submarine (the U-1105) which had been coated with rubber in an attempt to make it invisible to sonar. In 1949, after a few years of examination, the submarine was used to test a new type of depth charge and was intentionally sunk off the Point.
  • In the 1950s a chief petty officer’s cottage and garage were built.
  • In 1954 the bell tower had to be torn down because of damage suffered during Hurricane Hazel. It was not re-built.
  • The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1964. However, the Coast Guard continued to use the dwelling for staff housing for the next 15 years. In 1980 the lighthouse and associated buildings were transferred to the St. Mary’s County Department of Parks and Recreation. They are now under the management of the St. Clement’s Island Potomac River Museum about 20 miles up the road. The chief petty officer’s cottage has been converted into a small gift shop with exhibits on the light and submarine. (St. Clements Island is the site of the landing of the Arc of London and the Dove which brought the first English settlers to found the Maryland colony. St. Clements Island was also known for a while as Blakistone Island, and had its own light house. In addition to exhibits on Maryland’s founding, the St. Clements Island Potomac River Museum has exhibits on both the Blakistone and Rag Point Lights. More information is available at:

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