Lighthouse keeper to be memorialized in Allen

David Pietroski of Mount Vernon holds a photo of the Love Point Lighthouse taken about 1902. His great-great-grandfather, Otho Bounds of Allen, tended this lighthouse.

You could walk by the tombstone of Otho Bounds and never give it a second look. It’s just another gray granite stone among the hundreds in the church cemetery in Allen.

That’s soon going to change.

The Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society is placing a special bronze marker at the grave on Saturday, April 4. The planned ceremony will honor Bounds, (1867-1957), who served as a keeper of at least seven lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay from 1892 through 1936. The group provides a grave marker and special service grave-side program, free of charge.

This is the second special grave marker presentation recognizing lighthouse keepers of the Eastern Shore. About two years ago the late William James Kelly of Dames Quarter, the first recipient, was honored by the society. 

Kelly, during his 27-year career, manned three of nine lighthouses that once operated in Tangier Sound. He died in 1967. Both keepers knew each other.

According to Greg Krawczyk, program chairman for the society chapter, said the organization was unaware of the role Otho Bounds played until they were contacted by David Pietroski, Bounds’ great-great-grandson, about a year ago.

“We have names of about 2,000 names of keepers of Chesapeake Bay lighthouses. And this will be our second marker placed on the Eastern Shore,” he said.

Pietroski of Mount Vernon said he read the article on the society’s website about Kelly having a marker placed by his grave, and filled out the paperwork to have his great-great-grandfather included.

Bounds called the village of Allen his home, and with his wife raised seven children. He died at age 89, in 1957, and is buried in the Allen United Methodist Church.

His granddaughter, Mary Jones, 93, of Mount Vernon, is Pietroski’s grandmother. Through her he was able to get some information for his application.

“My grandmother hasn’t told me much about him, but did say when he came home he liked spending his time doing crossword puzzles. She said he didn’t do a lot of talking. I guess that was from years of being almost alone in the lighthouses.”

To Pietroski’s disappointment, there are no heirloom artifacts from Bounds in the family. No watches, diaries, model boats or other personal items.

And precious few photos.

Over his career, Bounds manned the light fires at Craighill Lower Front, Lower Cedar Point, Sharps Island, Hooper Island, 7 Foot Knoll, Sandy Point and Love Point lighthouses.

Taken in 1902, this photo shows the Love Point Lighthouse near the mouth of the Chester River. The tender, “Holly,” is shown at right. Otho Bounds of Allen was rescued from the lighthouse in February 1936.

According to Krawczyk, Bounds served 1892, 1893 and 1907 through 1936.

On Feb. 10, 1936, Bounds, then about 68, had to be rescued from the Love Point Lighthouse where he had been living. He had been tending the station since 1930.

Five men, tied together with ropes, walked across breaking ice to save Bounds, who had not contacted anyone for five days. It was a dangerous attempt.

It was feared the thawing ice could destroy the lighthouse and kill Bounds. 

One of the men, according to a newspaper account of the rescue, fell into 14 feet of water as the party approached the structure. He was rescued.

The rescue team that saved Bounds encountered 18 to two feet of snow covering the ice. It was a six-mile round trip trek to the lighthouse and back to the mainland.

The other keeper at the lighthouse, Wallace Sturgin, who was found seriously ill at the station two weeks earlier, was moved by an ice-boat to the mainland.

With Sturgin and Bounds removed, the lighthouse remained untended.

The imminent danger Otho Bounds faced, had he stayed at the station, was life threatening.

Taken in 1906, this photograph shows lighthouse keeper Otho Bounds of Allen holding his daughter, Ruth. His son, Harold, is at left.

In 2010 bookstore owner and historian, Jim Dawson of Trappe made a remarkable discovery — a series of 62 journals, kept by a family uninterrupted from 1847 to 1951. In the volumes, Dawson found the following (now abbreviated) account of the destruction by ice of the Choptank Lighthouse (known then among locals at the Benoni Point Lighthouse). It was about 35 miles south of the Love Point Lighthouse where Bounds was stationed in 1936.

“It is an absolutely a rare and remarkable account of a  lighthouse being destroyed by ice and tides,” Dawson said. The writer, Charles F. Willis Sr., who lived at the mouth of Island Creek in Talbot County, had a front seat and was able to see the destruction of the bay landmark.

Ice closing waterways, especially the Choptank River, was so important to locals, that the Willis family noted the closing of the river by ice, whenever it “froze up,” from 1850 through the 1920s.

In 1881, the Choptank Lighthouse was a pending death trap.

At the end of January that year, Capt. William Q. Price and his assistant Elhaham Jones reported that “immense masses of ice ten inches thick” came against the lighthouse. A newspaper account of the incident notes, “They stood it Friday and Friday night, but on Saturday the braces and two of the pilings of the house were carried away, and the keepers, deeming it foolhardy to remain longer, took their boat and safely reached shore,” as the  water wa clear of ice on the eastward side. 

Price told the reporter he “… never saw ice run so heavily, nor a lighthouse so fearfully tosses about.”

He feared that when the “when the upper Choptank ice comes down it will undoubtedly carry away the lighthouse.”

In 1881, moving ice almost killed tenders Columbus Butler and Charles Tarr of the Sharp’s Island Lighthouse. 

According to an article in the Tidewater Times, written by author Gary Crawford, The house was lifted clear of its foundation by ice and the men inside were carried for a 16-hour, five-mile ride on the bay, ending up near Tilghman Island. When it finally ran aground those inside escaped unharmed and miraculously were able to save the lighthouse lens, their library, personal belongings, and oil that provided fuel for the lens. The lighthouse was beyond repair.

Pietrosky said he’s always been interested in lighthouse history in general, but now that he has found a direct connection to history, he’s really excited about learning more.

Now he’s trying to get as many family together as he can for the marker presentation.

 “There’s a lot of family that are out there but we don’t know how to get in touch with them and we’re hoping they will see this story and get in touch with me so than can be at the marker presentation on April 4,” Pietroski said.

“When Otho died in 1957 he had 34 great-grandchildren, so since then there’s a lot of family out there we know nothing about,” he said. He’s hoping, too, that these mystery family members may have photos or items related to his great-great-grandfather.

Family wanting to attend the April 4 service program, at Bounds’ gravesite at Allen United Methodist, is requested to contact Pietroski at  443-235-1084.

For more information about the all-volunteer U.S. Lighthouse Society, visit USLHS.org and CHESLIGHTS.org. 

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