To call it a fixer-upper would be generous. There’s no running water, no heat, no electricity.
Once one gets past the romance of buying a historic Chesapeake Bay lighthouse, there’s lead paint, asbestos and toxic benzene. Vandals broke down the door and seabirds died inside. Crap is everywhere. Oh, it sits in about 18-feet of water within a U.S. Navy testing site called a “danger zone.”
Who wants the Hooper Island Lighthouse anyway?
When the federal government auctioned the 120-year-old lighthouse in September, as a last resort, a bidding war broke out. The price jumped from $15,000 to $38,000. Then $189,000.
“I was expecting nobody to want it,” said Greg Krawczyk, vice president of the Chesapeake chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.
Five anonymous bidders wanted the rusty “spark plug,” so-called for its cylinder base and 70-foot tower, three miles off the coast of Dorchester County. In the end, someone paid $192,000.
“Odd Chesapeake Bay lighthouse sells for absurd sum at auction,” a website mocked.
The buyer remained a mystery until the clerk of court for Dorchester County recorded the deed on Dec. 27. It lists a name: Richard Cucé, of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
One might have guessed a nonprofit foundation, but Cucé? He runs an industrial painting company outside Allentown. He knows rusty metal, but isn’t even a boater. What does a divorced father of four who plays in a band and teaches yoga want with a broken-down lighthouse 200 miles away?
A 52-year-old contractor, Cucé (Cu-Chay) started the industrial painting and sandblasting business Blastco during the mid-1990s in Eastern Pennsylvania. In two decades, he’s blasted and painted everything from train cars to roller coasters. Why not a lighthouse?
“I get excited about making something rust-proof forever,” he said.
. . .
“If somebody tells him it won’t work, he’ll go and do it. That’s been the fire for a lot of things in his life,” said Dominic, his oldest son.
Now, he’s still dreaming, of a nonprofit foundation and a marketing slogan. “Restore the lighthouse, restore the bay.” Cucé started a Facebook page with a glamor shot of the old light. “Feeling Rusty, might delete later.” He wants to invite environmental groups to monitor water quality and marine life from its deck. It sits near the edge of oxygen-depleted water known as the “dead zone.”
He wants to hire watermen from the three Hoopers Islands to help with the work. His thoughts race with the possibilities. He sent pitches for a documentary on the renovation. How about a YouTube series? A Hollywood film? Later, sunset cruises, a wedding dest ination, a yoga retreat. Just taste it — Hooper Island Light beer.
First things first. Cucé had to get a boat.
This tiny, off-the-beaten-path island is one of Maryland’s best-kept secrets. Hoopers Island is located in western Dorchester County and is surrounded by water with the Chesapeake Bay on the left side and the Honga River on the right side.
The drive to Hoopers takes only about 40 minutes from Cambridge but once you're there you'll feel worlds away from the mainland.
Depending on what month you plan your visit, you'll find plenty of watermen and women baiting trot lines, crabbing, and harvesting oysters in the late fall and winter. Hoopers has a rich history as a seafood empire that got its start in the early 1900s.
As the article mentions, you can't visit Hoopers without indulging in their authentic culinary scene, which features some of the best seafood restaurants Maryland offers.
Among them include Old Salty's an iconic institution that serves some of the freshest seafood in the country. Open even in the winter, Old Salty's is known for its wide variety of crab dishes from crab pretzels to crab sandwiches, even crab nuggets.
It's a long drive from here, but it might be kind of fun to try to get lunch there by boat.