Technically speaking, the current Cambridge Lighthouse is only nine years old, but that hasn’t stopped the community from celebrating one hundred years of this kind of lighthouse on the Choptank.
As Jim Duffy, the Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation executive director, freely admits, it’s a complicated history. In his Spy interview, he recounts how important lighthouses have been for sailors and watermen for over a century. Similar in impact to our modern-day interstate highways, lighthouses were critical in getting goods to markets in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
But as technology advanced, Maryland’s historic lighthouses were made obsolete and, in many cases, were left abandoned, falling victim to the unforgiving Chesapeake winter ice or juvenile delinquents using them as party venues. For many, it was a sad end for these cultural icons and their historical ties to the region’s rich maritime life.
This collective mourning for Chesapeake lighthouses ultimately leaded however to their welcomed return when a fledgling Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum was the first to reclaim this important heritage by installing the 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse on its dock in 1966. And Cambridge followed that example when its famed “Committee of 100” made a Choptank lighthouse a priority in their master plan to revitalize the community in the early 1990s.
Like all projects of this nature, fundraising was a challenge, lasting a few decades. Still, eventually, a replica of the Choptank Lighthouse was built in 2012 to the thrill and delight of both residents and visitors.
Today, thanks to the Cambridge Lighthouse Foundation, this remarkable monument to Dorchester’s long ties with the Bay serves as the unique vehicle for economic development its founders had forecasted. Beyond its educational role as a first-class interpretive center, staffed by dozens of volunteers, it has now become that special place where high school graduates and newly-weds are eager to be photographed alongside
The Spy spent some quality time with Jim (the well-respected Maryland writer when not running the foundation) a few weeks ago to catch up on the lighthouse’s history and unique place of Mid-Shore history.