Shedding Light on a Landmark
The Jones Point Lighthouse
In the 1850s, Alexandria was one of the busiest seaports in the Chesapeake region. To help guide Potomac River ship traffic, the federal government built the Jones Point lighthouse, illuminating the beacon for the first time on May 1, 1856. It was one of the first lighthouses designed to use a new "unified" plan, combining the beacon and keeper's house into a single structure.
Among the duties listed in the manual for the keeper were to keep a journal and log of expenditures, maintain the lighthouse and grounds, employ attendants,report wrecks, and "...be courteous & polite to all visitors..." This last duty was taken to heart by a one keeper:
"Year round, after Sunday morning obligations, citizens would gather in the buoy shed near the Light House. There...keeper Benjamin Potter Greenwood would listen to the recollections of those present. They would occasionally partake in a hand or two of poker—would finish off the visit with a bit of Maryland rye (Oxon Creek stills) or 'Virginia corn.'"
The lighthouse lantern was outfitted with a fifth order Fresnel lens, which was new technology at the time. The beacon initially used whale oil, then ran on gas, was changed to a fixed red oil lamp and finally became a flashing white gas lamp.During the period that the red light was in place, the Point became known as something of a nautical "red light zone" with gambling barges and floating brothels. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Between 1910 and 1912, the Army Corps of Engineers infilled the cove at Jones Point. In 1926, a fully automated 60-foot steel tower with beacon was erected along the new coastline, replacing the obsolete lighthouse. Image courtesy of National Archives