Baltimore’s Historic Ships: A Lightship, a Coast Guard Cutter and a Lighthouse

This article looks at the US Coast Guard Cutter Taney, the Lightship 116 Chesapeake, and the 7 Foot Knoll Lighthouse, all part of the Historic Ships of Baltimore maritime museum, which is located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. These ships serve as a reminder that the Inner Harbor for 200 years was — and still is — a major east coast port.

There is so much to cover that it needed two separate articles. Part 1 looked at the USS Constellation, a sloop-of-war that is the last existing intact vessel from the Civil War, and the US Submarine Torsk, a submarine that served in WWII.

If you don’t mind getting wet as you walk from ship to ship, this makes a good, summer, rainy-day activity — and it’s kid friendly as well. Several exhibits on the ships cater to kids and their imaginations, plus it’s fun to imagine living on board.

Lightship 116 Chesapeake

Located at Pier 3, adjacent the National Aquarium, the Lightship Chesapeake was built in 1930 to serve as a “manned navigational beacon” (i.e., floating lighthouse) and served for nearly 40 years. On station in all kinds of weather, the crew of the lightships guided vital maritime traffic to and from American shores for generations.

The Chesapeake served in a variety of places, under a variety of names (the name changed according to her location). She started out at the Fenwick Island Shoal, but was moved to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, where she stayed until the beginning of WWII.

Between 1942 and 1945, she marked the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal, until she returned to the Chesapeake Bay, off of Cape Henry (VA), where she guided maritime traffic in and out of the Bay for the next two decades. Finally, in 1965, she was deployed to mark the approaches to the Delaware Bay, where she served until 1970.

Coast Guard Cutter Taney

Located along Pier 5, the US Coast Guard Cutter Taney remains much as the Coast Guard left her.

As with the other ships, but particularly with the Taney, you’re walking on history when you board her. She is the last warship floating that fought in the attack on Pearl Harbor, although Taney was moored in nearby Honolulu Harbor not Pearl Harbor itself.

Serving her country for 50 years, the Taney saw action in both theaters of combat in World War II, serving as command ship at the Battle of Okinawa, and as part of fleet escort in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. She also served in the Vietnam War and afterward patrolled the seas until 1986 working in drug interdiction and fisheries protection.

The tour of Taney takes you around the deck to the bridge and below decks to the berthing areas, mess deck, the wardroom (officer’s quarters) and back onto the fantail. It’s interesting to see the different areas of the ship, but I felt for this ship in particular, it’s important to have sneakers or “sensible” shoes as you climb up and down some pretty steep ladders.

While on board Taney you can see the exhibit on sailor’s Canine Companions and follow the adventures of Soogie throughout the ship as you tour the bridge, the living quarters, the galley, and the dining rooms.

Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse

Located at the end of Pier 5, the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse was built in 1855 and is the oldest screw-pile lighthouse in Maryland. It was located atop Seven Foot Knoll, a rocky shoal at the mouth of the Patapsco River in the Chesapeake Bay. Thus, it’s fitting that when that when it was replaced by a modern navigational aid, it was relocated to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the northern tidal reach of the river, and now serves as a museum exhibit.

The lighhouse consisted of an iron cottage sitting upon nine iron piles which formed an octagon. As you tour the lighthouse, you learn about the building of the light, where lighthouses were placed around the Chesapeake Bay, and see several rooms restored to the primary period the lighthouse was in service. You’ll notice that it’s a bit larger than other similar screw-pile lighthouses, a feature that may have caused light keepers to suffer in the winter months due to insufficient heating.

You can walk around the interior, and head up to the watch level, just below the actual light. Afterward, you can walk around the exterior, enjoying views of the Baltimore Harbor and surrounding area.

Parking: Historic Ship’s visitors can receive discounted parking at the Inner Harbor Garage, located at 400 East Pratt Street, by purchasing in advance via Online parking rates are $5.00 per hour or $ 15.00 for all day parking — probably the least expensive you’ll find right around the Inner Harbor.

Know before you go: Wear sensible shoes for this daytrip, since you’re going up and down a number of ladder-stairs. If you’re going to do just two ships (a ticket option) then do the USS Constellation and the US Submarine Torsk for the cool factor.

Getting there: Tickets may be purchased at 301 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD

Hours: Check the website for specifics, as several of the ships and the lighthouse are closed during the winter season, and the lighthouse remains closed between 1 January – Memorial Day. The USS Constellation and the US Submarine Torsk remain open throughout the year, except on major holidays. Hours vary according to season.


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Updated December 2020