Drum Point Lighthouse

Take a virtual tour of the Drum Point Lighthouse

Drum Point Lighthouse Virtual Tour

A National Register Historic Place 

The Drum Point Lighthouse was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in 1976.

NRHP Nomination Form

Hours and Fees

Open daily, included with museum admission; times vary. Check with Admissions desk for schedule.

The Drum Point Lighthouse is open year round, weather permitting, except when the museum is closed on certain holidays. Your museum admission fee also allows you to tour the lighthouse.

For a virtual tour of the lighthouse, click here. Lexie Anderson, videographer.

History of Drum Point Lighthouse

Also Read: Moving a Lighthouse: A Brief History of the Efforts to Restore Drum Point Lighthouse 

At the time Drum Point Lighthouse was moved to the Calvert Marine Museum in 1975, volunteer researchers began gathering information on the history of the lighthouse. The National Archives in Washington provided the main source for this documentation. The results provide the basis for what we know of its history today. Highlights from the surviving station logbooks provide some additional insight on one of Maryland's most distinctive buildings. Drum Point Lighthouse dominates the museum's waterfront. 

This screwpile, cottage-type light is only one of three remaining from forty-five that once served the Chesapeake Bay at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Decommissioned in 1962, the lighthouse fell victim to vandals until moved to its present site in 1975. Beautifully restored, complete with furnishings of the early twentieth century, it has become the waterfront's main attraction and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A report by Lt. William D. Porter to the Secretary of the Treasury, Levi Woodbury, in 1838, provides the earliest reference to establishing a navigational aid at Drum Point. Lt. Porter urged that a beacon-light be placed on Drum Point at the mouth of the Patuxent River. At this time, nearby Solomons Island, or Sandy Island as it was then known, had only one house; it was not until 1866 that Isaac Solomon opened his cannery. No apparent action was taken until 1853 when Lt. A. M. Pennock of the Light House Board again urged the board to take steps to build a lighthouse. On August 3 1854, a congressional appropriation for lighthouses, lightships, buoys, etc., included $5,000 for a lighthouse on Drum Point.

Initially, the Drum Point light station was to be located on land. Debates between the state and federal governments over ceding state land to the federal government, fair value of the land, and size of the site went on until 1856. At that time a survey of the site was made for a ten acre plot on the south-most point of land at Drum Point. However no lighthouse was ever built because the transaction was never completed. The reason for this will probably never be known except that the land in question may have been owned by a Richard B. Fitzgerald of Baltimore. Fitzgerald was involved in a plan to extend a railway to Drum Point, and the sale of the land may have complicated matters.

Official records reveal nothing further until 1874 when a petition to Congress was sent by various steamboat company captains and agents calling for a light and fog bell at Drum Point. The Maryland General Assembly on April 6, 1874, passed an act of cession allowing the U.S. government to purchase land, not exceeding five acres, from any resident in the state. It also empowered the governor to convey title to any submarine site up to five acres. This legislation led to a spat of screwpile lighthouse construction in the 1870s and 1880s, since it became easier for the federal government to gain title to submarine sites, having only to deal with state authorities.

On February 15, 1883, a deed transfer was signed by Governor William Hamilton conveying five acres of submerged land about one-sixteenth nautical mile due south from Drum Point. The five acres were encompassed in a circle whose circumference was 263.3 feet from the center; the center being a point 38o 19' 03.5" north by 76o 24' 56.5" west.

Work on the white hexagonal wooden structure and its wrought iron screwpile base was started on July 17, 1883. A Fresnel lens of the fourth order was shipped from the Office of the Light House Engineer in Staten Island, New York, and the light was first exhibited on August 20, 1883. From a height of fifteen feet the fixed red light was visible thirteen nautical miles in clear weather. In poor visibility the fog bell would ring a double blow every fifteen seconds. The first keeper was Benjamin N. Gray, who was transferred from his post as assistant keeper at Cove Point Light Station.

The museum is fortunate that the logbooks for the Drum Point Lighthouse have survived for the periods 1883 to 1943, and are preserved at the National Archives.  Keepers were required to make daily entries regarding weather, work performed, and any unusual occurrences. A study of the logbooks reveals an endless round of cleaning and maintenance, but the logs also recorded strandings, sinkings, the arrival of inspectors and visits by Light House Service steamers, trips to shore for mail, supplies, and for church visits, and the occasional visitor. 

A few of the unusual events reported were: 

  • March 12, 1885, when a sloop dragged anchor and hit the lighthouse, with a crew apparently drunk, one of whom fell overboard and was rescued.
  • August 31, 1886, when tremors were noted at 9:50 p.m. and 10:10 p.m., strong enough to slam doors, rattle the bell machine, and wake the children (yes the light keeper had his family with him out at the light).  The tremors were caused by the great Charleston, South Carolina, earthquake, the second largest in U.S. history.
  • March 1, 1887, when an extremely low tide allowed the keeper to walk completely around the lighthouse;
  • February 24, 1895, when ice came over the south side of the river, one floe hitting the station and causing it to shake considerably, overturning several chairs.
Shifting shoals and bars brought about several changes to the light.  In December of 1899, Drum Point began operating with a "dark sector".  This was achieved by adding a segment of glass to the inside of the lantern.  By keeping out of this dark sector, mariners could avoid the shoal water off Sandy Point.  Other light changes occurred, but the light essentially remained the same until the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1962.