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Thomas Point Shoal Light will shine another 40 years at least after steel beams replaced

Last year the Thomas Point Shoal Light was in peril –– the nine 145-year-old cast iron screw piles that anchor the national landmark in the Chesapeake Bay were as good as new, but the steel substructure that kept the historic landmark perched 43 feet above the Chesapeake Bay had eroded.

The lighthouse, the last of its kind on the Chesapeake, is an iconic sight in the Annapolis region, and is featured on many souvenirs. Thanks to fundraising and hard work in sometimes difficult weather conditions this May and June, the light has at least another 40 years, manager John Potvin said Wednesday.

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After raising $430,000 last year, they were able to complete work replacing all 12 steel beams and 23 out of 24 tie-rods, which connect the beams. Potvin said those steel beams had last been replaced in the 1980s before the U.S. Coast Guard made the light fully automated.

“We didn’t think we would be able to do this over a one year period. We thought it would take us three or four years to accumulate this much money,” Potvin said.

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Sources of funding included donations from the Davidsonville Ruritan Club, Maryland Historic Trust, a local bond initiative sponsored by Sen. Sarah Elfreth, The France-Merrick Foundation, Inc., a gala in 2019 and individual donations.

The most recent steel beams lasted about 40 years, so they figure the replacement beams will last at least that long. The new steel has been treated with zinc and was also coated in paint to prevent more wear from saltwater and waves. Potvin said divers painted all sides of the new steel substructure, from the water up.

Marine Solutions Incorporated, which has experience working on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, won the bid to complete the work. Potvin said taking out and replacing the steel structure had to be done in sequence and took about six weeks.

In addition to the steelwork, a 21-foot wooden beam that supported the building’s outdoor bathroom has a crack in it and needed to be replaced. The Maryland Historic Trust advised them that just any replacement beam wouldn’t do. Potvin said they set out to find a suitable “old world” wooden beam.

Essentially the idea is that lumber today is harvested from younger trees which are weaker, Potvin said, and that wood from older trees with more tightly compacted rings is more supportive. They found a beam large enough made of oak inside a barn in upstate Pennsylvania. It was milled to the right size at a shop in Westminister and then brought out to the lighthouse on a deadrise boat named Audacious.

“We called it a Cinderella beam, just the right size and just the right stuff,” he said.

Public tours of the lighthouse have been canceled this year due to the pandemic. But there will be other years, now that the lighthouse has been saved.

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