Cedar Point Lighthouse cupola gets a facelift

Seabees have a long and impressive history in the Navy for getting things done. The Cedar Point Lighthouse has an illustrious history among the locals as a different sort of workhorse – one for the watermen of the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay. The two stalwarts of old came together recently as the Seabees of Public Works Self Help re-faced the bottom piece of the cupola with cedar that duplicates the original design.

BU2(SCW) Jeffrey Sapp was the crew lead on this, his first major project at Pax River.
“It was great working on this and being a part of history,” he said.

Sapp, from the Detroit suburb of Clawson, Mich., didn’t know about the lighthouse before coming to Pax. He described the project with pride.

“We used $3,000 worth of Western Red Cedar, which gives it a red tint,” he said.
Each panel of rough-faced cedar is tongue and grooved for authenticity and strength. The re-facing of the bottom piece of the cupola duplicates the original design.

About eight Seabees worked on refinishing the lighthouse, working for approximately 12 days building four new sides, two new window sections, and closing up a door on the old cupola.

BU1 Santiago Olvera and BU1(SCW) Charles Hicks did the detail work of the windows. Olvera, who is retiring shortly, said he enjoyed doing the unique circular windows for his last project.

“It took a day to figure out the templates for the portholes,” Olvera said. “But from then on it was pretty easy.”

Olvera cut the pieces for the windows out of 6 by 6 pieces of the prized cedar.
Originally built in 1896 off Cedar Point, where the Patuxent River empties into the Chesapeake Bay, the lighthouse was first lit Oct. 31, 1896. Constructed on a peninsula of 1.54 acres owned by the Coast Guard, the complex included the combined lighthouse and dwelling, an oil house, boathouse, fog-bell tower, outhouse, and barn. Sitting just offshore, the Cedar Point Lighthouse served as a beacon and landmark at the mouth of the river for 32 years.

The lighthouse continued to serve as a guide for mariners in and out of the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay until 1928. At that time, the Coast Guard abandoned the lighthouse, selling all but a 10- by 10-foot plot of the peninsula to the Anne Arundel Sand and Gravel Corporation. The Coast Guard kept the plot to install a post light as a day beacon.

By 1956, the day beacon was abandoned, and a year later the bell tower collapsed during a storm. On Nov. 10, 1958, the Navy became the new owners of the small plot of land. During the time it took the Navy to acquire the land, the peninsula had become a victim of erosion through storms and dredging by the sand and gravel company.

The Navy looked into stabilizing the structure, but it would have been too costly because of the severe damage to the building’s foundation. The Navy could not afford the upkeep required, and it was decided the safest course of action would be to demolish the structures before their condition presented threats to navigation. The Navy, recognizing the historic and cultural significance of the site, decided to retain the cupola as a keepsake.

In December 1981, the lighthouse cupola was removed, and on May 24, 1984, the restored cupola was dedicated and presented to the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum. It was placed prominently next to the museum.

In 1995, the Navy began to solicit public input on how to salvage the remaining piece of the lighthouse. Numerous historical societies and organizations contacted NAS, and after much discussion it was decided to send the salvage left after demolition to the Calvert Marine Museum in neighboring Solomons Island, Calvert County.

The museum already had plans to build a picnic pavilion. Using the salvaged Cedar Point pieces in the design made it a maritime exhibit that could be enjoyed by museum visitors. The remainder of the structure actually stood in the river until October 1996, when a barge and crane moved the slate roof and bricks to the Calvert Marine Museum for proper restoration. After demolition began, it was discovered that the bricks were held together with concrete and could not be separated without destroying them. As a result, one corner section of the lighthouse remains intact.

The cupola remained at the Pax River museum through the widening of Route 235. With the museum building scheduled for demolition, NAS decided to move the cupola until its permanent home is ready. In the meantime, the much needed face-lift was scheduled and the Seabees were brought in for renovations. Once completed, the cupola will be moved to an area near its old location to be viewed by the public once again. The cupola will be relocated into the new museum when completed.

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