November 11, 2020
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Remembrance Room: Lazaretto Point Lighthouse

Our ongoing series, known as "The Big Pivot" is bringing the Museum to you as you lay low at home during these challenging days. We often bring our story to public venues, using the pictured "pop-up" panels shown above....but a nice email wil have to do for now.

So many of us have a casual knowledge of the realities of Irish immigration, and that far off. New York's story, with Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the forefront, is something we point at, and contemplate.

Today's presentation from our "Remembrance Room” gives us a more local, Baltimore understanding. Desperate immigrants arrived in outer Canton 45 years before Ellis Island opened its doors. 1847 is called Black '47 by many historians, and Baltimore saw the realities of that horror first hand on the arriving famine ships, and on the docks that received so many in deplorable condition.

We are sharing a narrative on the Lazaretto Point Lighthouse today; site of the quarantine station mandated by the leaders of the City of Baltimore....a decision somewhat familiar to us who are experiencing our own days of pandemic.

Days of hope were ahead for so many who wondered if they would survive at all. Among the delightful stories we share, due to the kindness of Museum friends, is that of Timothy Hurley, one of our “High Kings of Baltimore”.

Our Remembrance Room: Elements and Elaboration

Photograph courtesy of C.C. Knobeloch.

A Second Protectorate: Baltimore’s Lazaretto

Luke F. McCusker III

The Lazaretto Point Lighthouse was part of a picturesque entranceway into the Port of Baltimore. Passenger ships sailed towards the City’s inner harbor via a strait flanked by Fort McHenry to its left and the lighthouse just to its right. While Fort McHenry protected the city from military threats over the years, the lazaretto, or quarantine station, protected a city of immigrants from disease that could arrive on ships carrying both people and cargo.

Lazaretto Point, located in lower Canton, was still a remote location in the 1840’s, and was thought of as a safe spot for treating contagious diseases. The horrors of Ireland’s Great Hunger, and the resulting immigrant arrivals put the Lazaretto into practical use in May 1847 when the Rio Grande arrived with 220 passengers. Half were extremely ill, and the entire ship was quarantined while undergoing purification. Men of the Hibernian Society came to the assistance of their fellow Irish, providing material support such as blankets, food and cooking utensils. A large wood structure was completed to house the sick, and care was given under the supervision of Dr. Lawrence.

Dr. Charles Maguire gave aid as well but eventually succumbed to illness, as did Sisters of Charity nurses. Many patients recovered, but some did not, and were buried in shallow graves in lower Canton. James O. Law, a former mayor of the city, contracted ship’s fever (typhus) while caring for desperate arrivals, and passed away soon afterward. He was buried at Green Mount Cemetery.

Lazaretto Point was used in other capacities in future years, but the lighthouse was finally turned off in September 1926.

A commemorative new lighthouse was built by Norman Rukert Jr. in 1985, in honor of his father, a lifetime harbor man and historian. The new structure is located 50 feet from the original spot, next to the Lehigh Cement towers (easily viewable from Fort McHenry). The lighthouse can be seen today at the southern end of Canton's South Clinton St.

The Lazaretto Point Lighthouse did more than serve as a guide to arriving ships. It marked a place of new beginnings for a desperate people who merely wanted to survive the horrors of the Great Hunger. These immigrant people regained their health, established homes and thrived in the neighborhoods of Baltimore.

High Kings of Baltimore: Timothy Hurley

Timothy Michael Hurley was born in County Cork, Ireland on May 2, 1878. His parents were Michael Hurley and Bridget Minehane, who married in 1876. After having three children, the family emigrated from Ireland in 1881 and settled in West Baltimore’s St. Martin of Tours parish. Dad was illiterate; he became a railroad laborer, while Mom raised a total of seven children at their homes on Lemmon St. & S. Calhoun St. until her early death on July 6, 1901. Michael died on February 9, 1925.

Their son Timothy was a native Gaelic speaker, and was naturalized in 1898. He married Lilly Schemma on June 25, 1902 (wedding photo above) and became a special detective for the B. & O. Railroad’s Police Department, working at the round house on Pratt St.

They had six daughters (five who survived to adulthood) and lived at 1315 W. Pratt St., next door to his in-laws. Timothy served as a Democrat election judge in 1916. The family moved to Edmondson Village in the 1930's and lived there until his death on February 3, 1953. He was buried from St. Bernardine’s Church and interred at New Cathedral Cemetery.

Thanks to Patricia Bruner for this photo and the donation of her grandfather’s police baton to the Museum.

Receive your Baltimore Irish History fix directly to your inbox