"Holland Island Bar" Holland Island by grandmaR

Holland Island Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 16 photos

Holland Island is a small marshy piece of land to the west of South Marsh Island. Holland Island is the southern most part of Dorchester County, Maryland. Its western side faces the Chesapeake Bay and its east side faces Holland Straits. All sides of the one and one-half mile long island are surrounded by shallow water of from one to three feet of depth.

It isn't a tourist destination

Having the only trees within an eight-mile radius, Holland Island has several large heron rookeries. Hundreds of other shorebirds and waterfowl also nest here each year. Egrets, curlues, oyster catchers, ospreys, mallards and black ducks, geese, swan, gulls, terns and now even bald eagles make their nests the island. Brown pelicans are frequently seen gliding along the island's shores. Diamondback terrapins lay their eggs on the sand bars and thousands of fiddler crabs reside in the cord grass. Some unlikely visitors also come to the island from time to time. Whitetailed deer sometimes swim across miles of open water to feed there. And migrating songbirds often stop for a rest in the trees during the spring and autumn.

Settled in the last decades of the 1600s, Holland Island reached its peak population between 1890 and 1910. By 1910 approximately 360 people lived on the distinct ridges of high ground.

There were several general stores, a grade school, church, Red Men's Hall, post office, a full-time doctor and minister, and a thriving fleet of workboats, including schooners and 55 skipjacks.

There were more than 60 homes on the island. The typical home was roomy with many windows for the family to keep an eye on the sails of the boats working in the distance and to provide light during the daylight hours.

By 1920 the erosion from wind and tide was taking its toll on the island's bay (west) side. The islanders tried to import stones to build walls along the shore and even sank some old boats to slow the erosion, but lacking modern equipment and techniques, their efforts failed. By 1922 most of the residents of Holland Island were forced to leave. Many residents moved their homes, piece by piece, to mainland sites. Today, only one home remains.

The island's size has been reduced by erosion from approximately 160 acres in 1915 to approximately 80 acres today. Not all the residents of Holland Island left their homes. Many still rest in the island's burial sites. Two graveyards are left on the island, and one has been lost beneath the waves. Some families moved their loved-one's remains before they were claimed by the sea to the graveyard beside the old church. Of the two remaining burial sites there is a family plot of a dozen graves. The other, is the main cemetery with over 50 graves.

I have not been to Holland Island, but there is a small ATON (aid to navigation) off the shoal at the southern end of Holland Island which is called Holland Island Bar light. It is in the form that we call a spider, which is a multi-legged platform with a light and horn on top of it to warn boats away. This automated beacon was placed here on the screwpile foundation of the previous lighthouse by the Coast Guard in 1960.

The original ATON here was a hexagonal screwpile light which was built in 1899 on Holland Island Bar to mark the approach to the Kedges Straits. Since Holland Island Bar was located in the center of the bay its relative isolation made it a more difficult assignment than some of the other bay lights. In the winter of 1917-1918, assistant keeper W. F. McDorican struggled alone for a month to keep the light operational, despite terrible snowstorms and ice. Head keeper C. C. Tyler had gone ashore just prior to the storms, and was unable to return once the weather turned foul. An exhausted McDorican finally conceded and walked from the lighthouse across the frozen bay to Holland Island.

Holland Island Bar's isolation also contributed to the mystery surrounding the death of keeper Ullman Owens in 1931. Keeper Owens, who had served since 1911, was last seen alive on March 11, 1931. Shortly afterwards, keeper Henry Sterling of Solomons Lump light observed that Holland Island Bar was not lit. Sterling's light was not equipped with a radio, so Sterling had to wait until a vessel came within hailing distance to communicate his concerns. Sterling finally was able to flag down the Winnie and Estelle, whose first mate, H. J. Garner, agreed to check on the keeper. On the way, Garner was joined by oyster boat captain John Tawes Tyler of Crisfield.

Garner and Tyler arrived at the Holland Island Bar light to find a horrific and bizarre scene. Keeper Ullman was dead in the kitchen. The kitchen was in disarray, as if there had been an altercation. There were blood stains throughout the station, and a bloody butcher's knife near Ullman's body. Despite the blood, there was no visible sign of any gunshots or stab wounds on Ullman's body - only scrapes and bruises.

A later autopsy revealed that Ullman suffered a cracked skull - a far more severe injury than identified in the initial examination. On May 12, federal agent C. J. Callahan testified that he overheard Guy Parkhurst, arrested for rum running, say "There go the rats that turned us in. Well, the lighthouse keeper got in the headlines. We did that. What these rats get will be worse."

Further complicating matters was that Ullman had several girlfriends - two of whom left their husbands. Some surmised that one of the ex-husbands was responsible for the keeper's demise. Ultimately, however, the investigation was closed as the autopsy revealed an enlarged heart - symptomatic of heart disease. The ruling that Ullman died of natural causes stood, and the case was closed.

In another incident, a Japanese freighter collided with the lighthouse on a particularly foggy day. Fortunately, the freighter did not hit the lighthouse squarely - the freighter rolled off and continued on course.

Further misfortune befell the lighthouse on the night of February 19, 1957. Nearby, an old grounded hull of the Hannibal was frequently used as target practice by pilots at the nearby Navy stations. One night, three pilots confused the lighthouse for the hulk. Flares were dropped at the "target" site, and three ADSN Skyraiders fired seven five-inch rockets - three of which hit the lighthouse. Fortunately, the practice rockets did not carry explosives, but they still managed to tear holes in the walls and cut several of the cast-iron legs. The keepers radioed the Coast Guard, and the lighthouse was evacuated. The next day, shaken but unhurt, the four Coastguardsmen returned to the station to begin repairs.

  • Last visit to Holland Island: Jun 2008
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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