Blackistone Lighthouse, located on St. Clement's Island, was completely
destroyed by fire in 1950. However, thanks to the volunteer organization
St. Clement's Hundred, Don Cropp, Maryland Rock and scores of other
volunteers, the birthplace of Maryland will soon have a new beacon of
Why is it so important to so many people that this lighthouse on this
little island be brought back to life? It's a piece of history that
literally defines and describes the state of Maryland. This is where the
original colonists from England landed. On March 25, 1634, 200 colonists
waded to shore, took possession of the land, and proclaimed the very
first policy of religious tolerance in America.
When the colonists sailed into St. Clement's Bay and were met by the
native Piscataway tribes, the island was approximately 455 acres. The
arrivals named the island after St. Clement-a pope, martyr and patron
saint of mariners. But, after landing on the island, the colonists moved
back to St. Mary's City to found their settlement because the island had
no protective harbor and they thought it was just too small to establish
a formal and permanent seat of government and commerce.
Some of the colonists eventually did settle here, one of them being Dr.
Thomas Gerard, a wealthy landowner in Southern Maryland and Virginia.
When his daughter Elizabeth married Nehemiah Blackistone in 1669, he
gave them the island as her dowry. The island stayed in the Blackistone
family for 162 years. Though it has diminished in size (currently it is
about 45 acres) the island was a critical player in the development of
Maryland and colonial America from the Revolutionary War to the Civil
War. This little piece of real estate was coveted by friend and foe,
Union and Confederate.
The British used this island as a base of operations in the
Revolutionary War. From Blackistone Island they could strike out and
raid the nearby waterfront plantations and support the blockades of the
Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. In the War of 1812, the British again
took possession of the island. During the Civil War the Union used it as
a base of operations to keep goods and material from flowing from the
south into Virginia.
A great story of civility and humanity rises from the attempt by the
Confederates to destroy the lighthouse. The original lighthouse was in
the central part of the house that was the light keeper's home. So
destroying the lighthouse meant destroying their home. When the
lighthouse keeper, McWilliams, found out there was a Confederate plan to
destroy the lighthouse he pleaded with the Confederates not to destroy
the house because his wife was very near to giving birth and moving her
would have been dangerous for both mother and unborn baby. The
Confederate officer appreciated McWilliams' predicament and, instead of
destroying the lighthouse, he ordered that the lens and the lamp be
destroyed and took the oil that was used to keep the light lit. His wise
move kept the lighthouse dark and the McWilliams family out of danger.
The Blackistone Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1932. Sadly, the
interior was destroyed by fire in 1956 and the Navy razed the remaining
walls. The McWilliams family was involved with the island and the
lighthouse from those early days during the Civil War. Josephine
McWilliams Freeman was the tender at the Blackistone Island Light
Station from 1875 to 1912. Freeman's granddaughter willed $5,000 to the
St. Clement's Hundred to rebuild the lighthouse in her grandmother's
Built in 1851 with a congressional price tag of $5,100, the renovation
of the Blackistone Lighthouse is estimated to cost over $550,000. The
cost will likely be considerably lower when all is said and done because
so many providers have donated materials. Project Manager Don Cropp,
owner of Colony Builders, has given his time and that of his workers to
this project. Maryland Rock has provided the sand and all of the barges
that brought all the building supplies from the mainland to the island.
The labor for the project is provided by scores of St. Mary's countians
that give up their time and muscle to help move this project forward.
More than 14 years ago a group of interested citizens got together to
see what they could do to save the island and the lighthouse. Many
meetings later, a group called the St. Clement's Hundred formed to
renovate the lighthouse and preserve the centuries-old
On Friday, April 13, work started on the lighthouse. Three hundred tons
of materials were loaded on three barges and landed near the site. Along
with the cement, rebar, iron mesh, shovels, and wheelbarrows were 45,000
bricks, 9,000 blocks and 220 tons of sand and gravel. Because of the
difficulty in landing on an island-remember there are no boat ramps on
St. Clements-all of the material had to be offloaded with a skidder or
by hand. The cement for the footers and base of the lighthouse had to be
mixed by hand and delivered to the foundation by wheelbarrow. All of the
work on this project will be done by hand and it is estimated that
completion will be around October 1, 2007, in time for the Blessing of
This project gives testimony to the power of volunteers and the
possibilities of making dreams reality.