Seven Foot Knoll Light

Nov. 5, 2019

Seven Foot Knoll Light, Baltimore, Maryland


Location:  Originally in entrance to the Patapsco River, Chesapeake Bay, moved to Pier 5, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD
Date Built:  1855
Type of Structure:  Screw-pile with cylindrical iron dwelling / tower
Height:  40 feet above mean high water (when on station)
Characteristics:  Inactive
Foghorn:  Yes
Builder:  Murray and Hazelhurst of Baltimore, MD
Appropriation:  $27,000
Status:  Inactive, moved to a museum setting

Historical Information: 

  • Requests for a lighted aid to navigation at Seven Foot Knoll began in earnest in 1848. At this time the Maryland Legislature formally requested a light vessel for the mouth of the Patapsco River. The Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, Stephen Pleasonton, initially resisted the request, considering the North Point Range Lights and Bodkin Island Light sufficient. However, complaints from mariners and ship owners persisted and Congress ended up appropriating $27,000 for the light before Pleasonton finally accepted the proposal in 1851. At this time a congressional inquiry was underway reviewing the entire U.S. system of aids to navigation. Shortly thereafter supervision of U.S. lighthouses was reorganized under the newly formed Lighthouse Board. From its earliest design stages, plans for the new Seven Foot Knoll light incorporated the new “screw-pile” lighthouse technology which had been developed in Britain. Technological issues along with the change in administration caused delays in construction of the light and the plans were re-drafted several times. The final design consisted of an iron cottage sitting upon nine iron piles which formed an octagon with the ninth pile in the center. The iron founders, Murray and Hazelhurst, of Baltimore, MD were contracted with to provide the ironwork and construction began in 1854. The light was completed in late 1855. There is some dispute as to whether the new fourth order light was exhibited that year or in January of 1856. Most sources list 1855 as the year the light was commissioned. This light took over the role formerly handled by the Bodkin Island Light and the latter was decommissioned soon afterwards.The original octagonal cottage, built in 1855, was replaced somewhere around 1875 with the current cylindrical structure. In January of 1884 ice flows broke some of the iron piles. These were repaired. However, ten years later ice had again damaged the foundation piles. Large amounts of rip rap stone were laid around the lighthouse to help protect it.Seven Foot Knoll is particularly famous for the actions of one of its keepers – Thomas Steinheise. During the infamous storm of 1933 (which also severed New Point Comfort Light in Virginia from the mainland), Steinheise single-handedly went forth in his small tender boat and rescued five men from a foundering tug boat. He was awarded a Congressional Medal of Heroism (the highest civilian honor) for his bravery.In 1948 the light was fully automated.
  • By October of 1988 the light had been replaced by a steel tower and title to it was obtained by the City of Baltimore. With the assistance of Empire Construction, the 220 ton structure was cut from its pilings on October 11, placed on a barge, and towed to Pier 5 in Baltimore’s re-vitalized Inner Harbor. Initially the renovated lighthouse served as the offices of the Living Classroom Foundation. However, it is now open to the public along with the Lightship Chesapeake and the World War II submarine, Torsk. Seven Foot Knoll is the first screw-pile lighthouse built in Maryland and is one of only four, out of the forty-two screw-piles lighthouse built on the Chesapeake Bay, that is still standing. 

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