“I Should Care What Happens…”

This audio and post is from an interview with Jane Jacksteit in the fall of 1998 for my publication, “From Lockhouse to Lighthouse” – a semi-annual tourism publication which later became “Havre de Grace – the meeting place” – a full color magazine.

When Jane Jacksteit and her husband, Bert, chose Havre de Grace to retire in 1976, Jane wanted to pay back a debt. Traveling a great deal and never having lived in the same community for more than six years, Jane felt she’d used the advantages of those communities for schools and other resources. She was now looking for a community where she could return all that she had taken throughout the years.

From their home on Market Street, Jane could see the Concord Point Lighthouse. It was a sad, broken part of the community’s history at that time. And she kept telling herself, “I should care what happens to that piece of history.”

The Concord Point Lighthouse was being decommissioned. It had been used as part of the Bainbridge Naval Training Program out of Port Deposit. After radar was introduced to the naval boats, the training facility was no longer needed. Since it was one of a very few of the 800 lighthouses in America that had been continuously operated, the U. S. Coast Guard wanted the light to remain operational.

Then Mayor Frank Hutchins negotiated for the lighthouse for $1 with no plan at that time as to how to maintain the lighthouse. The lens had been stolen, the building had been ransacked. It was in terrible, desolate condition. This was the winter of 1976-77.

The Friends of the Concord Point Lighthouse

Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre de Grace, MD
Jane was moved to go to the City Hall and learned of two others interested in saving the lighthouse. Soon she was meeting with Anna Long, a former councilwoman, and Arnie Stackhouse, a sailmaker in town. The three of them decided to organize a non-profit community association to save the lighthouse. Thus the birth of “The Friends of the Concord Point Lighthouse.”

By the end of 1977 there was a good half-dozen serious members willing to work to take care of the lighthouse for the city. It is not a commissioned part of the city government, but it operates at their request. “We are the ‘caretakers’ for the City,” Jane explains. “The City helps with certain projects and expenditures, but the ongoing work of fund raising and keeping the building maintained in good repair and open to the public is the responsibility of the group.”

A Bit Of Concord Point Lighthouse History

Jane explains, “The Concord Point Lighthouse had to do with the beginning of the canal history in the United States. Water was the only way to travel. Washington and Jefferson and especially the Americans who knew the canal system in Europe realized we needed canals at that time. Baltimore needed to connect to Pennsylvania. They were stuck at Havre de Grace going north. The earliest canal was planned and built along the east side of the Susquehanna River following the Revolutionary War, but ii was an economic disaster and went into bankruptcy.”

She continued, “Jefferson was convinced we had to have the canal and a second canal was to be built on the west bank of the river. A new company was formed. But to mark the harbor at Havre de Grace, navigation needed a lighthouse. Concord Point was a navigational disaster, the river was very treacherous at that time. The maritime industry petitioned the House of Delegates of Maryland for a lighthouse so they could find their way around Concord Point. After a number of years they finally got permission to build the lighthouse here with money provided by the House of Delegates.”

My “ah ha” Moment

It is at this point that I realized that Jane Jacksteit was finally completing a picture for me that others had been trying to explain. The shoreline that we now enjoy did not exist twenty five years ago. The Concord Point Lighthouse sat out into the river. Before the building of the Conowingo Dam, the area was marshy and flooded often. The point jutted out into the river and made it dangerous for boats. Following the dam construction, the area gradually filled and the shoreline began to change. Later, real estate developers got involved and many of the changes we see today began.
Jane’s House by the Sea

In her description and detail of the preservation efforts, Jane’s love of the lighthouse and the city’s history are very evident. In her passion she causes you to look again at its history and importance to Havre de Grace. She ties it to our economic and commercial history. Suddenly the Museum Alliance consisting of the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House, Decoy Museum, Maritime Museum, Concord Point Lighthouse, Steppingstone Museum (within the Susquehanna State Park) and the Skipjack Martha Lewis all fit together like perfect pieces of a large puzzle.

Take the time to listen to the stories offered by the docents at each of these museums. Ask questions if you don’t understand. Remembering every detail, date, and name are not as important as getting the concept of how it all fits together. I’m still learning. But each person slips another piece into the puzzle and opens my eyes.

“I live in a house that was built by a sea captain,” Jane shares. “It was the only house out here for many years. I realized I could look up river, south, and in the attic he has windows looking out over the whole panorama. That does something to you. You realize how things have changed. Then I began to identify with how things had been and how they worked.” History became very personal for Jane. The Concord Point Lighthouse and Havre de Grace have created a home that brings with it a real sense of comfort and history.

“When you’ve lived in many parts of the country and you see how history has been saved by just the breath of a chance… for instance the Alamo – saved by one stubborn woman. One lady. A national treasure,” Jane pauses. Then she goes on to discuss the importance of the Seneca Cannery building and begins the story of John Donahoo. But those are stories for another day.

NOTE: Jane Jacksteit died on September 5, 2007 at the age of 89.

 

 

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