For the past two years there has been nothing but controversy swirling around Jones Point Park. Whether or not to build soccer fields? How to best protect the archeological artifacts? Should it be used for passive or active recreation?
But, through it all, there has been one constant, untouched by the various factions. Last Friday it marked its 150th Anniversary in a modest but significant ceremony attended only by a handful of supporters.
Jones Point Lighthouse, authorized by Congress in 1852, was built in 1856 on a sliver of land located at the southern tip of the City of Alexandria. Then there was no controversy about Jones Point Park because there was no Jones Point Park.
Its white beacon of light was first illuminated on May 3, 1856. It was visible for 12 miles down river. Seventy years later, 1926, it went dark for the final time as an active aid to river navigation.
“We don’t own it but we pay all the bills,” said Barbara Muller, regent, Mount Vernon Chapter, Daughters of The American Revolution, in opening the 150th Anniversary ceremony of the lighthouse’s dedication. She was joined by Betty Vosbect, chair, Jones Point Lighthouse Committee, Mount Vernon Chapter, DAR.
The year the light went dark, the Mount Vernon Chapter of the DAR “convinced the United States Congress to convey the lighthouse to them so they could maintain the property and restore the building,” Muller told the small group assembled to mark the occasion.
That is exactly what occurred until 1936 when the property was taken over by the United States Signal Corps. When they returned it in 1953 the building was in total disrepair, both internally and externally.
Appeals to the U.S. Army and the Federal Government to reimburse the DAR chapter for the cost of repairing the damage fell on deaf ears, according to Muller. That forced the chapter to transfer the lighthouse and the land immediately surrounding it to the National Park Service.
In 1991 the Park Service made “considerable repairs to the building.” In 1993 a new “Fresno” light was installed. That light still functions today. But, the building is still not habitable. It suffered further damage during Hurricane Isabel.
“In 1864 my great grandfather went through here to the Civil War. This lighthouse has seen so much Alexandria history we have to preserve it,” said Alexandria Vice Mayor-elect Andrew Macdonald.
“There are only five lighthouses left on the Potomac. This is a real treasure. I’m hopeful we will be able to turn it into a City museum,” Macdonald said at the ceremony.
James Mackay, acting director, Office of Historic Alexandria, pointed out that “until 1911 Jones Point was just a tiny peninsula.” What is now Jones Point Park was underwater. “It was known as Battery Cove,” he said.
“You got to the lighthouse by way of a rope walk four football fields long. Then in 1911 Battery Cove was filled in. Following that the Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation established a ship yard in the area,” according to Mackay.
“At that time this area was like the surface of the moon. There was not a stick of vegetation anywhere,” he said.
“The lighthouse was also the residence of the light keeper as was the case of most lighthouses. In the 19th century one of those keepers was named Benjamin Greenwood. He, his wife and their 11 children all lived here,” Mackay stated.