Observed annually on August 7, National Lighthouse Day honors the beacon of light that for hundreds of years symbolized safety and security for ships and boats at sea. At one time, the beacon of light could be found across almost all of America’s shorelines.
A lighthouse is described as a tower, building or any other type of structure that is designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways.
On August 7, 1789, the United States Congress approved an act for the “establishment and support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers.” It was two hundred years later that Congress designated August 7 as National Lighthouse Day.
- Mark dangerous coastlines, hazardous shoals, reefs, safe entries to harbors.
- Assist in aerial navigation.
- Have declined due to the expense of maintenance and replacement by modern electronic navigational systems.
- Has a source of light called a “lamp” (may be electric or oil fueled).
- Were originally lit by open fire and then candles.
- Differ depending on the location and purpose but have standard components.
- Has a lantern room which is a glassed-in housing at the top of a lighthouse tower.
- Has a Watch Room or Service Room beneath the lantern room.
- Has an open gallery outside the Watch Room or Lantern Room.
- Development accelerated in the 17th century with Britain’s Trinity House constructing its first in 1609.
- Earliest in North America was in St. Augustine, Florida. Printed on a 1791 map, it had been built by Menendez after his landing in 1586.
- America’s next lighthouse was Boston Light on Little Brewster Island in 1716.
- The oldest existing lighthouse in the United States is the Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey. Built in 1764, this lighthouse is still in operation.
- The world’s oldest working lighthouse, La Coruna, stands at the northwest tip of Spain. The Romans built it early in the second century A.D. It’s also called the Tower of Hercules.
- At the end of the 19th century, the United States had the most lighthouses of any nation.
- The United States Coast Guard took over on July 7, 1939.
- Visiting and photographing lighthouses has become a popular hobby as well as collecting ceramic replicas.
- The first known lighthouse―the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt―was completed about 280 B.C. It stood more than 350 feet tall until an earthquake destroyed it in the 1300s.
- The first lighthouse in what is now the United States was built on Little Brewster Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor in 1716. The British blew it up in 1776. The replacement tower, dating to 1783, still functions as a navigation aid. Known as Boston Harbor Light, it is the only U.S. lighthouse that is still manned.
- The first U.S. lighthouse to use electricity is also the world’s most famous lighthouse: the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. From its opening in 1886 until its deactivation as a lighthouse in 1902, its torch carried an electric light that was visible for 24 miles.
- The tallest masonry U.S. lighthouse is the Cape Hatteras Light near Buxton on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It was recently measured at 207.49 feet from the bottom of the foundation (about 10 feet underground) to the top of the spire.
- The first lighthouse on the West Coast was the Alcatraz Island Light in San Francisco Bay, completed in 1854. The original tower has been replaced by a 1909-vintage structure.
- The first Great Lakes’ lighthouses were the Erie Land Light in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Buffalo Light in Buffalo, New York, both established in 1818. Neither of the original towers remain, though both sites still contain active lighthouses.
- The newest U.S. lighthouse is the Charleston Light on Sullivans Island, South Carolina, completed in 1962. The rather strange-looking triangular structure (click on www.lighthousegetaway.com/lights/SC/sullivan.gif for a photo) is also the only U.S. lighthouse with an elevator and air-conditioning.