APG employees help keep Turkey Point Lighthouse shining bright
June 23, 2014
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - For Tad Barteau, the Turkey Point Lighthouse isn't just a local historic landmark or a nautical beacon of light. It's "home," he says, and the lighthouse has a cherished place in his family's history.
"My great-grandma, Fannie Mae Salter, was the last light keeper at Turkey Point," said Barteau, an Army Test and Evaluation Command contractor surveyor at APG since 1991 who lives only a few minutes from the lighthouse.
"So, I grew up with stories about Turkey Point in my family. My mother lived there until she was 12, so when I'm in the lighthouse I think about her crawling around on the floor as an infant and toddler. It's my family place."
Barteau and fellow APG employee Tom Broughton, a CECOM technical writer-editor, are among several volunteers who give their time and energy to the Turkey Point Lighthouse every weekend between Easter and the end of October.
The lighthouse is located in Elk Neck State Park near North East, Md. The 181-year-old structure, which is about 50 minutes northeast of APG by car, was built by John Donahoo, the same architect behind APG's Pooles Island Lighthouse and the Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre de Grace. The three lighthouses were built to operate in concert with each other to safeguard mariners from shallow waters and hidden shoals in the upper Chesapeake Bay.
The 35-foot-tall Turkey Point Lighthouse, which was automated in 1947, was deactivated and decommissioned in April 2000. Two years later, the non-profit group Turkey Point Light Station Inc. (TPLSI) took over the stewardship of the light station, overseeing the maintenance of the lighthouse and the nearby oil house.
Broughton, a TPLSI volunteer for the past six years, admits he's not particularly a lighthouse aficionado.
"We sometimes get people who might say 'I'm here!' like there's a shaft of light coming from the sky and the messiah has arrived," he says about some lighthouse enthusiasts. "I'm not one of those, but I enjoy getting outside and I'm attracted to history."
Broughton was recruited to volunteer at Turkey Point by a neighbor who was a past TPLSI president.
"Dean kept pestering me to become a volunteer and I kept telling him that I'm not a joiner," he recalls. "But I like giving back and North East is a neat town."
In their capacity as volunteers, Barteau and Broughton serve as docents and perform small repairs and cleaning chores at Turkey Point at least one day of one weekend a month.
"I try to offer [visitors] as much information as I can or that they listen to," says Barteau, whose great-grandfather, C.W. "Harry" Salter, was also a keeper of the lighthouse. "And I try to talk with them about the history of the area and get them oriented about where they are."
He pointed out that on any given day, four rivers -- the Susquehanna, the North East, the Sassafras and the Elk -- can be viewed from the lantern room of the lighthouse, which sits on a 100-foot bluff.
"It's a gorgeous place and the view is just incredible," he said.
Still, Barteau and Broughton feel the lighthouse -- which had a brief scene in the 1997 political thriller "Absolute Power" with Clint Eastwood -- suffers from a lack of exposure. Recently, TPLSI was informed the lighthouse will appear on state signage on Route 40 and I-95 that will hopefully point more visitors toward the state park and lighthouse.
"Some people have lived in this area all their lives and don't know much about the lighthouse at all," Broughton says. "So we explain it all when they come visit us. It's really a family experience. People love it."
Approximately 4,900 tourists visit the lighthouse annually, with some coming from as far away as England, Russia and Japan, according to TPLSI president Rita Coleman. There is no charge to climb the lighthouse, but contributions are accepted.
Lighthouse supporters hope to eventually rebuild the once-adjacent lighthouse keeper's dwelling, which was razed by the state in 1972 after years of neglect and vandalism. That project would cost between $550,000 to $650,000, according to Broughton and Coleman.
A former cryptologic technician for the U.S. Navy, Broughton believes the lighthouse has another interesting feature besides its rich history and panoramic view -- paranormal activity. He says while fielding questions from a Boy Scout troop several years ago, he felt something poke his shoulder sharply.
"I looked over my left shoulder and didn't see anybody, so I just kept talking," he says. "But I felt it a few more times. No breeze, no nothing. Another time, something touched the back of my leg while I was speaking to a visitor." He also says a visiting psychic once told him there were otherworldly energies ruminating inside the lighthouse.
Spirits and spooks aside, Broughton says he enjoys the camaraderie among the group of volunteers who keep the lighthouse accessible to the public. "While several people are involved, it's an interesting group and we are always looking for new volunteers," he says. "It's just a good thing to do."
For information about the Turkey Point Lighthouse, visit www.tpls.org or call 410-287-8170.