United States Lighthouse Society
The History of Lighthouses
To read the complete articles from past issues The Keeper's Log magazine - Click the name of any of the articles below
|Historical Articles||Technical Articles||Human Interest Articles|
|Lake Superior||Lake Michigan|
The History of Fog Signals - Beeeohhhh, the mournful sound of the fog signal hooting and echoing across a bay shrouded in grey. It seems as through that sound must have always been part of the bayscape. But, in fact, fog (correctly termed, sound) signals are relative newcomers to the field of navigational aids, and the most popular of them, the diaphone and diaphragms, are from the 20th century.
The Depot - Since the establishment of the first lighthouse at Boston Harbor's Lettle Brewster Island in 1716, lighthouses have needed supplies. Our first lighthouse keeper, George Worthylake, ferried his supplies to the Boston Lighthouse via row boat. But as the service grew and the number of light stations increased, more than row boats were needed.
The History of the Lighthouse Administration - On August 7, 1789 the 9th Act of the first Congress, and the first Public works Act, provided for the transfer of the twelve existing lighthouses in the United States from the individual states to the federal government.
Lighthouse Myths - This article is an attempt to correct some of the myths that have been perpetuated for some time concerning lighthouse locations, lighthouse structures and, most importantly, the illuminating apparatus used in them.
Fresnel Lens - Parts 1 & 2 of a 6 Part Series
Human Interest Articles:
The Keeper's New Clothes - The Lighthouse Board stated in 1883, “It is believed that uniforming the personnel of the service, some 1,600 in number, will aid in maintaining its discipline, increase its efficiency, raise its tone, and add to the esprit de corps.”
Pages from the Past - Transcript of a talk given by Edward Aubry Brooks to a First Baptist Church men's class about 1940, in the Everett, Washington area. About his life work, almost 40 years, as a Lighthouse Keeper. First stationed at Cape Mears Lighthouse, Oregon; then transferred to Turn Point Lighthouse, then to Point-No-Point Light Station and then to New Dungeness Lighthoues. He spent his last 12 years at Mukilteo Light Station before retiring.
Great Lakes Lighthouses:
Devils Island Lighthouse - Apostle Islands - Lake Superior
Devils Island is the northernmost island on the western extremity of the Apostle Group With the opening of the first lock at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855, maritime traffic along Lake Superior’s south shore increased dramatically. The importance placed on this new station was evidenced by the fact that the plans called for it be outfitted with a flashing Third Order lens, an order of lens reserved for only the most critical aids to navigation on the Great Lakes. In fact, at that time only six Third Order stations were in operation in the entire Eleventh District, with four of them located on Lake Superior at Whitefish Point, Au Sable Point, Manitou and Outer Island, another of the 22 islands making up the Apostle Group.
Rock of Ages Lighthouse - Lake Superior
Rock of Ages is the geographical name of a rock ridge jutting up from the floor of Lake Superior five miles from the southern extremity of Isle Royale. On this rock the lighthouse was built and from it, took its name. This lighthouse serves both as protection and a guide to shipping to and from north shore ports.
Seul Choix Lighthouse - Lake Michigan
Almost four hundred years ago, French fur traders frequently traveled in canoes across the waters of the Great Lakes. On one occasion, a group of French sailors were caught in a storm at the north end of Lake Michigan and sought shelter. They landed on the rocky shore of a small bay on the southern shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here they waited out the storm in the protected bay and when they departed they named the bay or harbor – Seul Choix – which translates as “only choice.”
Anacapa Island Lighthouse
The Anacapa Light Station, off southern California, was one of the last classical light stations constructed on the west coast. In 1854, members of the U. S. Coast Survey visited the island and reported that it was an ideal, but impossible site, on which to construct a light station, “It is inconceivable for a lighthouse to be constructed on this mass of volcanic rock ... perpendicular on every face, with an ascent inaccessible by any natural means ...”
East Brother Lighthouse
Much of East Brother Lighthouse has been restored to its early-day appearance and function. A giant cistern still stores rainwater for use on the island. Victorian- style trim decorates the outside of the dwelling and tower. And the mighty diaphone fog signal, installed in 1934, roars back to life to the thrill of visitors. Guests can even stay overnight, dining and sleeping where the different lightkeepers lived for nearly one hundred years.
Farallon Island Lighthouse
Scattered in a line seven miles long, the Farallon Islands lie 26 miles off San Francisco's Golden Gate. They comprise 120 acres of granite sculptured by wind and waves into inlets, ridges, stacks and cliffs that descend precipitously to the sea. In early 1853 the ship Oriole dropped anchor in Tower Bay (now Fishermen's Bay) to begin consturction of the first of eight lighthouses along the Pacific Coast.
New Point Loma Lighthouse
The scrub-covered summit of Point Loma rises 422 feet above the surf. And below, on a ten-acre slope at the fickle shore of America’s extreme southwestern edge, stands the “new” Point Loma Lighthouse. This working Coast Guard Light Station has been a crucial feature of San Diego’s landscape for over a century.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
The decade of the 1850's could well be called the "Age of the Clipper". The Carrier Pigeon departed Boston on her maiden voyage January 28, 1853 and on the morning of June 6th she was sighted of Santa Cruz. The ship continued in a thick fog blanket concealing the shoreline. Believing he had verred far from shore, Captain Azariah Doane steered the vessel towards the coastline and then came the sound of splintering timbers as the ship's hull drifted into the grasp of the jagged sea bottom. News of the tragedy touched both coasts, and the location of the disaster would, from that time on, be called Pigeon Point.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
In terms of age Point Cabrillo Light Station is a mere youngster, having first been lit in June 1909. However, the location of the lighthouse on a fifty-foot bluff two miles north of Mendocino Village on the rugged coast of northern California is of great historic significance.
World War II at the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, changed life for everyone in America, including Ponce Inlet. On December 12, the light station was closed to the public, and unauthorized persons were not allowed on the beach. (Eventually, civilian guards would be stationed to check every car that crossed the bridges onto the peninsula.) The two keepers at the lighthouse were ordered to stand eight hour watches to spot possible enemy activity, and on December 29th, the Coast Guard decided to require round-the-clock watches.
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse
Sea captains paid special attention to Jupiter because it juts out further into the sea than any place on Florida’s east coast. Dangerous reefs abound offshore, which meant that ships sailing south between the Gulf Stream and the shoreline had less room to maneuver. An angry storm or a locked-up propeller could drive a ship helplessly into the jaws of a reef, and it happened with amazing regularity.
Sand Key Lighthouse
Located in the Florida Keys at the southern-most point of the United States, Sand Key is a small, low-lying spit of sand seven miles south-southwest from Key West, near the west entrance of the southwest channel leading to Key West.
Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse
Cape Elizabeth is a critical geological point on the Maine coast. South of the Cape the coast has long sandy beaches amongst rocky spits and headlands. To the north of the Cape the coast line is almost devoid of sandy beaches and becomes laced with rocky cliffs and islands. Early Spanish explorers called the area cabo de muchas isles or “cape of many islands.”
Portland Breakwater Lighthouse
In November 1831, a fierce northeaster wreaked havoc on Portland’s exposed harbor. The storm, coupled with a high tide, caused widespread damage in the harbor. Vessels’ mooring lines were parted, piers were destroyed and several buildings were carried away. The Portland Breakwater Light Station assisted mariners to navigate the shoal-laced approach to the harbor at Portland, Maine.
Portland Head Lighthouse
The name "Portland Head" predates by more than a century the name of the port city "Portland" which was known as "Flamouth Neck" prior to 1786. The headland, located in the agricutural, fishing and shipbuilding town of Cape Elizabeth, served as a natural lookout position. By the 1790's Portland had become America's sixth largest port, with its merchants gaining a large slice of the Atlantic carrying trade. Still, at the outset of this commercial boom, there were no lighthouses in all of Maine. Local petitions for a light at the entrance to the harbor began as early as 1784 with leading merchants call on the Massachusetts legislature to act.
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
Established in 1808, the West Quoddy Light Station was the first and only station in the nation’s Light List (LL No. 1) until the St. Croix River station was completed in 1858. It is the easternmost light station in the country, one of only two red and white banded US towers, and among the first to be equipped with a bell fog signal and, later, a steam whistle.
Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse
The Chesapeake Bay, at 180 miles in length, is one of the great protected waterways of the country. Because of its natural configuration it became the home of many of our earliest ports of call: Norfolk, Portsmouth, Annapolis, Baltimore and, farther up the Potomac, Alexandria and Washington. These were all bustling seaports early in the beginning of our nation. But for all its size, Chesapeake Bay is shallow in many areas, with limited deep water channels. The need for aids to navigation was evident early on.
Saving Straitsmouth Island Light Station
Since the U.S.Coast Guard left Straitsmouth Island Light Station in the 1930s, it has been owned by a number of private owners and by the 1960s had been totally abandoned. It has been on the dooms-day list of endangered lighthouses since that time. A joint effort by the Thacher Island Association, the town of Rockport, and the Massachusetts Audubon Society has been established to save this historic and iconic lighthouse station first established in 1834. Straitsmouth Island is located near the harbor entrance to Rockport, Massachusetts, just north of Gloucester and about 35 miles north of Boston.
Cedar Island Lighthouse
Perhaps no other light station on Long Island has experienced as many ups and downs as Cedar Island. From the glory of Sag Harbor’s whaling days and the laughter of many children, through erosion, storms, and abandonment, to the current struggle just to remain standing, this light station has had its share of good times, as well as bad.
Statue of Liberty Lighthouse
Her vital statistics and historical facts can be neatly recorded, but she defies classification. She is a late 19th-century engineering wonder; a monument of art; an architectural form; and she speaks eloquently - if silently - for the spirit of liberty. She stands in New York Harbor but belongs to the whole nation. Her essence combines the tangible with the intangible. She is the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.
Aransas Lighthouse (also known as Lydia Ann Light)
With the exception of the approaches to New Orleans, lighthouse construction along the Gulf Coast lagged behind other areas of the country and certainly didn’t keep pace with the increasing maritime trade in the area.
Cape Charles Lighthouse
The town of Cape Charles was a busy seaport in the 19th century. On May 18, 1826, Congress appropriated $40,000 to construct a lighthouse on Smith Island, just off Cape Charles, VA. This island marks the northern side of the entrance into Chesapeake Bay. The light station was named Cape Charles.
New Point Comfort Lighthouse
A lone tower surrounded by water and rip rap, the lighthouse at New Point Comfort has weathered a constantly shifting shoreline as well as occupation by enemy troops in two wars. That the tower has survived for nearly two centuries is truly remarkable. The tenth oldest intact lighthouse in our nation, it was once part of an onshore station first lit in 1805.
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
The Columbia River, 1,210 miles in length, is the second longest river in America. Twice a day a huge volume of water running to the sea encounters an incoming tide at the mouth of the river. This phenomenon, coupled with the wind and currents from the northwest, causes heavy surf and a dangerous bar situation. John Meares sighted Cape Rogue, as it was initially called, on July 6, 1788. Captain Meares tried to find an entrance to escape the high seas he was experiencing. He wrote in his log,”…Disappointment continued to accompany us…” Because of his frustration he renamed Cape Rogue, Cape Disappointment.
FRANCELa Cordouan Lighthouse - The most beautiful lighthouse in the world.
“The Gulf of Gascony, from Cordouan to Biarritz, is a sea of contradictions; an enigma of a strife and struggle. As it stretches southward it suddenly acquires an extraordinary depth and becomes an abyss in which the waters are swallowed up. An ingenious naturalist has compared it to a gigantic funnel, which abruptly absorbs all that pours into it. The flood, escaping from it under an awful pressure, [mounts] to a height of which our seas afford no other example.” — Jules Michelet; French historian (1798 -1874)
The Lighthouses of the North Coast of Tuscany, Italy - In 1861 Italy was finally unified and Tuscany became part of the Kingdom of Italy, ruled by King Emanuele II of Savoia. In 1863 the situation of the harbor-channel of Viareggio became of primary relevance again. There was still the problem of the sand shoals always moving; a sea storm was enough to close the entrance of the channel and of the harbor.
La Lantern - Genoa, Italy - The origins of the lighthouse of Genoa are uncertain and half legendary, but some sources say the first tower was built around 1129 on a rock called Capo di Faro (Lighthouse Cape). By a decree called delle prestazioni (about services), responsibility for the light was entrusted to the surrounding inhabitants “Habent facere guardiam ad turrem capiti fari” which, in Latin, simply means “to keep the light on.”
The Lighthouse of Livorno - Tuscany - The Middle Ages are usually referred to as a dark period in history, but that it is not completely true. In those centuries the arts started to flourish, which led to the era of the Renaissance. Painting, poetry, architecture, and the beautiful Gothic cathedrals are examples of this era. Also, many lighthouses were erected along the coasts of Italy in the same era.
The Lighthouse of La Coruna - Spain - Each lighthouse has its own story, but there is one in particular, the Tower of Hercules at La Coruña in the region of Galicia on the northwestern coast of Spain, which owes its name to one of the most intriguing stories ever told.