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Lighthouses: Connecting Us With Our Past

Lighthouses: Connecting Us With Our Past

Dec 1st 2018

Lighthouses: Connecting Us With Our PastLighthouses have existed for centuries. Originally built to help sailors navigate dangerous coastlines, the use of lighthouses in modern times has declined due to the cost of maintenance and new technology. Scattered around the United States, however, some majestic lighthouses still continue to mark the shoreline. The design and placement of lighthouses in the United States highlight what was happening historically. Learning about, and touring, these monuments is a connection to our collective historical past. Let's take a look around the country at a few of the more famous lighthouses.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is easily recognizable because of its striped swirl pattern. Originally built in the late 1700s, the lighthouse that tourists now view and tour was constructed in the 1870s. This lighthouse marks a sandbar off shore, which has claimed more than 2,000 ships. Ships can see the beacon from nearly 20 miles offshore. Visitors are allowed to climb the 268 stairs inside the lighthouse for a spectacular view. This lighthouse is protected as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Cape Henry Lighthouses, Virginia

Currently, a modern lighthouse sits close to the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse that was originally constructed in 1792 by the U.S. Government. Originally, work on this lighthouse started close to two decades earlier; however, construction halted because of the Revolutionary War. The old lighthouse is no longer in use, replaced by the aptly named, New Cape Henry Lighthouse. Yet, a visit to these lighthouses is rich with history dating back hundreds of years. The New Cape Henry Lighthouse is one of the few remaining working lighthouses and is operated by the Coast Guard.

Portland Head Light, Maine

Walk along the coast surrounding this lighthouse and it is easy to see why a beacon was needed. A rough, rocky coastline complete with some dramatic cliffs make navigation without modern technology difficult, especially at night. The Portland Head Light was built more than 200 years ago, to aid passing ships. History buffs will enjoy learning that the beacon first burned whale oil, and that even with damage done in the 1970s, much of the original structure is still intact. Visitors can also enjoy the attached maritime museum, which once housed the lighthouse keeper.

Grand Haven Lighthouse, Michigan

Not everyone thinks, "Michigan" when they think lighthouses, but they should. Michigan is surrounded by water and has a dynamic shipping history. As such, Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state! The Grand Haven Lighthouse, is unique in that it should be visited in both the summer and the dead of winter. Depending on the severity of winter storms, parts of the fog signal building can be covered in ice. The original lighthouse constructed in this location washed away in 1852 because of erosion. Another lighthouse was built as a replacement on a bluff above the first location. In 1904, yet another lighthouse was built close to the same location, this time on top of a concrete pier. It is this lighthouse that still stands guard against the waters of Lake Michigan today.

Pigeon Point Light Station, California

As if there are not enough reasons to visit Half Moon Bay outside of San Francisco, the Pigeon Point Light Station is yet one more. Constructed in 1872, this lighthouse marked the rugged shoreline surrounding the area. Rising 115 feet into the air, the lighthouse makes a magnificent backdrop to the dramatic coastline. While tourists are not allowed to climb the lighthouse, the grounds are open for exploring and feature grand views.

See the Light

Lighthouses are standing historical monuments which should be visited and appreciated. Many are accompanied by maritime museums highlighting what life was like when the lighthouse was in full working order. No matter where you are in the United States, if you are by a coastline that is a good chance there is a lighthouse to visit.