Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse

Pier 5
Today’s Hours: 10:00AM–5:00PM

For most of its history, Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse was manned by keepers of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and later the U.S. Coast Guard. As an isolated station, life in the lighthouse was not easy for keepers out at sea. Between various vacancies, resignations, and appointments of keepers, assistants, and at times, even families, the lighthouse remained operated until 1948.

Plan Your Visit
Activities & Artifacts

The Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse and USCGC Coast Guard Cutter Taney are located on Pier 5, east of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

The Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse contains an extensive exhibit of artifacts and information on lighthouses around the Chesapeake region. Built in 1856, it is one of the oldest Chesapeake lighthouses still in existence. While visiting the lighthouse, be sure to enjoy the terrific view of Baltimore Harbor.

A new artifact, the ship’s bell from SS Danville is now on display. Also new is an artifact exhibit on navigational instruments.

Our artifact collections consist of approximately 50,000 objects, photographs and documents across all of our exhibits. These artifacts tell the stories not only of the ships and lighthouse, but of the thousands of brave sailor for whom these historic sites were a duty post, a home, and a way of life. New items, often donated by former crew members and their descendants, are rotated into exhibits so there are opportunities to see something new in future visits. If you are interested in donating an an object, photograph, or document related to one of the sites that the Historic Ships operates, we would love to hear from you.

Learn About:
Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse History

Manned initially by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and later, the U.S. Coast Guard, Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse was an isolated station that was used as a general aid for the navigation of ships. Built in 1856, this lighthouse is one of the oldest Chesapeake lighthouses still in existence. Throughout the lighthouse's history there was difficulty retaining keepers. After advancements in technology in the 1930's to 1940's, the lighthouse became obsolete in 1948.

A Keepers Duties at the Lighthouse

The duties of keepers were often routine but were nonetheless essential. Each night at sundown, the beacon lamp was lit and had to remain so until sunrise the following morning – a task which required vigilance and regular maintenance. Each morning, the beacon lens and lamp were thoroughly cleaned and made ready for use that evening. In times of fog, the fog bell had to be sounded continuously which required winding the station's bell machine every 45 minutes until the fog lifted.

Despite the availability of shore leave, many apparently found life at Seven Foot Knoll difficult. The early history of the station is dotted with resignations and appointments of both keepers and assistants. In 1873, for example, the Lighthouse Service received a report that the position of assistant keeper at Seven Foot Knoll had been vacant from July 1, 1872 until March 31, 1873.

The difficulty of retaining keepers was echoed again 40 years later in report by the 5th Lighthouse District Inspector who cited that between January 1913 and May 1916 six assistant keepers had come and gone. “….This difficulty,” he wrote, “is in great measure due to the extremely uncomfortable condition of the station during the winter months on account of cold…it is very much larger in floor area than the usual screw-pile lighthouse…three of the rooms in particular are of very large size….It appears that the station was originally provided with a heating stove in addition to the cook stove, but this has been taken down and the smoke pipe discontinued for the reason that the fuel allowance was insufficient to run two stoves during the winter.” On the Inspector's recommendation, the station heating stove was re-installed and the annual coal allowance increased from four to six tons. “This allowance is in excess of that supplied to any other station on marine site in this district,” concluded the Inspector, “but it is believed to be entirely warranted by the extraordinary conditions at this station.”

1870-1879: Families in Isolation

During the late 19th Century, at least two keepers had their families with them at Seven Foot Knoll – a practice which was not strictly permitted by the Lighthouse Service at offshore lighthouses. This practice may have been both the cause and result of the staffing difficulties at Seven Foot Knoll.

The following letter of resignation from Assistant Keeper Joseph Worthington gives a rare glimpse into the domestic side of life at Seven Foot Knoll:

“Baltimore, February 26, 1870

To George S. Boutwell, Secretary of the Treasury

Dear Sir,

A few days ago I was appointed an assistant light house keeper at the Seven Foot Knoll [when] Edward Bell resigned. I have since understood that Mr. Lucas, the principal lighthouse keeper has his wife and two children living there which is the first time that I ever knew that the government allowed this. As all knoll lights have a principal [and] 2 assistants and all shore lights have 1 man and his family the result [is] that Mr. Lucas and his wife and children live together- that is cook and eat…while the other two men that are put there by the government have to do their own cooking – Mr. Lucas by this way of proceeding will always cause dissatisfaction among the assistants, and it will be hard [to] get any man to stay any length of time because he is violating the rule by having his wife and children living in a knoll light… and the other two men must live in one corner of the lighthouse while him and his wife must play the king and queen in the other part a nice state of things I must confess- when I was on a visit at the knoll in the summer of 1868 there were 3 men who mess together and there was no trouble but since Mr. Lucas has been down there with his wife and children and changing the rules there has been a great deal of trouble about getting a man or men to stay there. My reasons for addressing you this letter is that [I] intend to resign my commission as assistant keeper at the Seven Foot Knoll under the above circumstances and my reasons herein are stated hoping you are enjoying excellent health.

I am with the greatest sincerity Joseph F. Worthington No. 11 N. Central Avenue North of Baltimore St. Baltimore, MD”

James T. Bowling, a keeper at the lighthouse from 1874 to 1879, also kept his family at Seven Foot Knoll, though it is not known if this was officially sanctioned. Bowling's daughter, Knolie, who was born at the lighthouse in 1875, painted an interesting picture of life at Seven Foot Knoll in the following excerpts from a 1936 Baltimore News story:

"There are five large rooms and we had a piano and a big bookcase with no end of books which occupied our time during the long winter evenings. Mother had been a school teacher and she taught us, because we had no way to get to and from shore for school.

“Father had many friends among the tugboat captains and at rare intervals he would signal one of them to stop and take him to shore.

“Once when a storm blew up and prevented his return my mother tended the light and rang the fog bell all night.

“Part of our equipment was two small boats and in good weather Father would row to the nearest shore ....We had nets and lines and an abundance of sea food, which we traded with the farmers for vegetables.

“Under the living quarters we had a hog pen and chicken yard and there we kept our coal and wood. Several times our ‘barnyard' was swept away by storms, but we always managed to rescue the livestock and keep them in our living quarters until Father could rebuild their home. We even raised some vegetables in boxes on the big balcony, but it was hard work.

“On stormy nights wild fowl would lose their way and fly directly into the light. It was a simple matter in the morning to gather up enough fowl for our larder. Water was caught in rain barrels. In summer we had lots of visitors – fishing parties – but in winter no one came. In spring when the ice broke up it would pile up against the lighthouse, rocking it and scattering our furniture around. That was what made us change our home finally.”

Evidence suggests that the increased regulation within the Lighthouse Service in the late 19th Century put an end to the families living at Seven Foot Knoll. In fact, regulations published in 1880 stated that at “isolated stations, where there are two or more keepers, no women or children will be allowed to reside, unless by special permission of the Light-House Board previously obtained.”


1930-1941: Thomas J. Steinhise's Account

After World War II, USS Torsk alternated between duties as a training boat at the Navy's Submarine School in New London, CT and active deployments in the Altantic and Mediterranean. In 1952, the boat underwent a fleet snorkel conversion and received equipment for use in testing and development of the Regulus missile in the mid-1950's. In the 1960, Torsk received a Presidential Unit Citation for her service during the Lebanon Crisis. Additionally, she earned the Navy Commendation Medal for participating in the Cuban Blockade.

By the 1930s, the need to retain keepers at Seven Foot Knoll was questioned. “It would appear…that the station is of minor importance as a general aid to navigation since the dredged channel is well marked by lighted buoys and range lights” observed the 5th Lighthouse District Chief Engineer in a January 1936 report. Although the technology existed to automate Seven Foot Knoll's light and fog signal, the U.S. Lighthouse Service viewed the lighthouse as more than just an aid to navigation. “[I}n regard to the possibility of making Seven Foot Knoll Light Station unwatched,” wrote 5th Lighthouse District Deputy Commissioner C.A. Park in 1936, “….It is noted that local interests would apparently be strongly opposed to such action because of life saving services rendered in the past by this station….”

As a result, Seven Foot Knoll continued to be manned into 1948.

Restorations

One of the most essential functions of Historic Ships in Baltimore is the ongoing maintenance and restoration work. The Museum’s dedicated Maintenance & Restoration staff and corp. of volunteers work to ensure that these national treasures survive for future generations.

An update on the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse will be coming soon.