Pooles Island Lighthouse

Nov. 5, 2019

Pooles Island Lighthouse, Harford County, Maryland


Location:  Pooles Island, Chesapeake Bay
Date Built:  1825
Type of Structure:  Conical stone tower
Height:  38 feet above mean high water
Characteristics:  Inactive
Foghorn:  Fog bell tower (no longer standing)
Builder:  John Donahoo and Simon Frieze
Appropriation:  $5,000
Status:  Inactive, but still standing (in a restricted, military, area – not accessible to the public)

Historical Information: 

  • Pooles Island lies in the Chesapeake Bay outside the mouth of the Gunpowder River. The Island had been settled and farmed as early as 1808. In 1824 Congress appropriated $5,000 for the building of a lighthouse on the Island at the same time they authorized building the original (land-based) Thomas Point light. The land for the station was purchased for $500 and John Donahoo and Simon Frieze were awarded the construction contract along with the one for Thomas Point Light. (The two projects were undertaken simultaneously.) They built a 40 foot conical tower using Port Deposit granite which was topped by a wooden lantern. The spiral steps inside the tower, are of cut granite, set into the walls. Upon completion, the tower was parged and whitewashed. The lighting apparatus was provided by John Bovis of Baltimore, MD and the station was commissioned November 27, 1825. A one story keepers dwelling was built nearby. This was the first of 12 lighthouses to be built by John Donahoo on the Chesapeake Bay.In 1828 a 25 – 30 foot fog bell tower, costing $2,800, was built at the site. This was the first fog bell installed on the Chesapeake Bay.In 1857 the lighting system of 7 Argand lamps and reflectors was replaced with a fourth order Fresnel lens.
  • In 1867 the lantern was replaced with one constructed out of iron.
  • In 1882 the keepers dwelling was enlarged by the addition of a second story. (During this period, the island became known for its thriving orchards and its peaches in particular.)In 1917, coinciding with America’s entry into World War I, the island was purchased by the U.S. Army and made part of Aberdeen Proving Ground. The light was automated on June 12, 1918, but continued to be used.In 1939 the light was decommissioned and the property turned over to the Army. The keepers dwelling and ancillary structures were torn down and the tower was left to decay for several decades, serving only as a day marker. Recently, the army has taken major steps to renovate the tower which is the oldest one still standing in Maryland. In 1996 the exterior was completely stripped. The lantern was re-painted, new windows and mahogany doors of the original design were installed, and the tower was re-parged and painted. Plans are currently underway to renovate the tower interior in hopes that it can be turned back over to the Coast Guard and re-lighted.

(Note:  While this light tower is visible from the water, the Island is still part of Aberdeen Proving Ground.  It is off limits to the public due to unexploded ordinance on the island.)

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