To be a lighthouse owner: Not as romantic as it may seem


The Craighill Channel Lower Range Front Light Station marks the channel to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from the middle of the bay. (Cathy Taylor/The Washington Post)
June 26, 2012

In 2002, I received an article from my husband’s brother titled “So You Want to Own a Lighthouse.” The article detailed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which set out to give away lighthouses to nonprofit groups and local governments.

I’d been one of those kooky people passionate about lighthouses, and I felt I’d left part of my soul behind on Florida’s gulf coast when we moved here.

Despite the fact we had an infant and had just sunk our resources into buying a historic home, I knew I had to have a lighthouse. So I set up a nonprofit and began a grueling, three-year application process.

In November 2005, my efforts paid off with the Craighill Channel Lower Range Front Light Station at the mouth of the Patapsco River leading to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

I became a modern-day lighthouse keeper.

My job, in addition to raising a family and my full-time career, is to protect and preserve the past glory, romance and purpose of my lighthouse for current and future generations.

I’d love to save them all, but I’ve learned that one is more than enough of a handful — particularly in inhospitable offshore waters. (Read about more area lighthouses.)

Where three keepers once rotated duties and lived in the lighthouse, I am a weekend warrior trying to perform their duties in my spare time with my children, husband, family, friends and small battalions of volunteers.

Our romantic regular duties consist of scrubbing the walls and decks of bird poop, fish bones, guts and unidentifiable slime. We scrape the walls, prime and paint them, we empty buckets until we can discover leaks and plug them. We try to solve the eternal issue of creating safe access without also making it more accessible to vandals.

There has been the joy of rebuilding the twisted metal access platform and the heartache of finding the steel ladder ripped to shreds by ice. I was exuberant to finally have funds to purchase a generator light enough to hoist into the lighthouse, while powerful enough to run a sander and shop-vac. Heartbreak struck when we found the lighthouse had been broken into, the precious generator vanished.

But after all of the victories and disappointments, there is nothing better to ease muscles and stinging callouses than setting up a beach chair on the lighthouse’s wraparound deck and watching the sun sink into the horizon with a glass of wine in hand.

Then, it’s on to another long night listening to the battering waves and howling winds. At dawn, it’s back to work after percolating some weak coffee over a camp stove. I relish every bone-weary, adventuresome minute of it.

— Cathy Taylor

Cathy Taylor is a lead systems administrator for The Washington Post. Follow her progress at www.craighillrange.org.

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