Jones Point Light

City of Alexandria, Virginia, USA (2000)

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Potomac River Lighthouse

Jones Point Light

Jones Point Park, Alexandria, VA

Jones Point light is the last remaining river lighthouse on the Potomac River. It was completed in 1856, less than ten years after the land on which it rests was returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia. I mention this because I first stumbled across the Jones Point Light while conducting field research on the original boundary stones of the District of Columbia. The south cornerstone, the southernmost point in the original 10 by 10 mile diamond that formed the Federal district, sits just feet away from the light. Today both of these historic objects, notable for completely separate reasons, can be found in Jones Point Park

South Cornerstone of the District of Columbia

South Cornerstone

An adventurer, explorer, and trader by the name of Cadwalder Jones sailed up the Potomac River. He built a cabin on an attractive spit of land in 1699 with a commanding view of the river, surrounded on three sides by water. A century and a half later a lighthouse rose on the small peninsula that had come to be named in his honor.

It is one of the more unusual lighthouse I've seen. It features a stubby little tower originally outfit with a diminutive 5th order Fresnel lens atop a small keepers home, a barrel on a shack. This inland light did not need a high focal plane like those found along the coast. It merely had to extend a beam of light down the river far enough so that mariners knew they were approaching the southern edge of the City of Alexandria. The lighthouse met this purpose until a steel tower replaced it in 1926. The lighthouse witnessed many changes taking place on Jones Point during its history. A shipyard rose to supply military vessels during the first World War, then waned. Then the military appropriated Jones Point in the time leading up to and through the second World War. The Daughters of the American Revolution had long been responsible for maintaining the lighthouse along with the South Cornerstone, but with access to the site restricted to military purposes during this period, the building fell into serious disrepair.

When the military finally vacated the site, Jones Point lighthouse was left in a shambles. Years of decay and vandalism had taken their toll. Restoration since then has been slow, undertaken as funds become available. The exterior is beginning to approach its original condition but much work remains to be done on the interior which is basically gutted. Even so, important milestones are reached, and none more important than 1995 when the lamp was re-lit and returned to service. America's oldest surviving river lighthouse shines once again.

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