History of the Lighthouse
By 1855 Alexandria, Virginia had become the third largest seaport of the Chesapeake Bay's estuaries and was in need of a lighthouse to protect the ships going up and down the river. A contract was awarded the same year to Charles B. Church to build the light on the Potomac River south of Alexandria. The light was completed on May 1, 1856.
Five years later a retaining wall was built which encased the Southeast Washington D.C. cornerstone, as well as protected the land. Previously the wall had been 5 foot cedar posts.
Not much changed except the possible addition of the porch on the West side of the lighthouse, until the Army Corp of Engineers filled the land east of the point to create a site for a shipyard. By 1917 a shipyard was built and produced several ships for the war effort (World War one). However, by 1921 the company went bankrupt. The yard was dismantled.
The light was automated in 1919 and deactivated in 1926. That year a steel tower was built on the eastern edge of the property. At the same time the lighthouse was deactivated, the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) asked Congress to convey the property to them to restore. Congress approved. Go to http://oha.alexandriava.gov/archaeology/jonespoint/ar-jpt-index.html for a good map showing the ship yards and other building locations. I have explored the site and it has a lot of excellent information about Jones Point area.
The D.A.R restored the lighthouse and had their meetings inside as well as card parties. They also installed the picket fence similar to the one that had been there before. The building may have been housing for the security guard that protected the doll factory.
In 1936 the United States Signal Corp took over the lighthouse property and built a security fence around the property. The D.A.R. was not allowed to come on the property on a regular basis or take care of the lighthouse, even though the D.A.R. still had title to the property. It would not be until 1953 that the Signal Corp left with the lighthouse in poor shape. They had not only neglected maintenance of the structure, but has also allowed the soldiers to use the lighthouse for target practice. The Mount Vernon Chapter then tried to get compensation for years for the damage from the Army, the Army Corp of Engineers and even President Eisenhower to no avail.
As all efforts failed to secure compensation went on, the lighthouse was subject to vandalism. Many of the sideboards were taken and elements of the lantern room disappeared. Vandals set fire several times, luckily none consumed the building. In 1964 the D.AR. transferred the property to the National Park Service which had already acquired 50 acres at Jones Point and both thought the lighthouse could be the focal point for a purpose park. By 1986 a new agreement had been signed between the D.A.R. and the park service where the ownership stayed with the park service but the preservation, repair, maintenance and interpretation was the responsibility of the D.A.R..
In 1993 the light that had been dark for so long was relit with a single light bulb. Two years later on June 29, 1995 a modern light of more power and lower maintenance (155mm lens) was installed and the light was declared a minor aid to navigation by the United States Coast Guard.
Over the years the D.A.R. has raised and spent money just to keep up the lighthouse and grounds. Painting, re-roofing, fence painting or replacement, re-pointing brick work and drainage have all been done.
While the hope is to totally restore the lighthouse, the present Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project limits work that can be done until 2008 according to the schedule. More information is available at http://www.wilsonbridge.com/
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