Preservation of the Nation’s Lighthouses

ALCATRAZ PRESERVATION-  The Alcatraz Lighthouse Preservation is one of the projects the United States Lighthouse Society is involved with                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo courtesy of the United States Lighthouse Society

By Carla Charter

 I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.—George Bernard Shaw

Lighthouses are seen as beacons of hope, which shine through our collective history. They have been portrayed in numerous photographs and paintings.  The tales of lighthouses and the people who occupied them, selflessly tending the lights and saving sailors in distress, dot our literature.

“Lighthouses speak to people all over the world in some way. There are really no other buildings built for this purpose,” said Jeff Gales, Executive Director of The U.S. Lighthouse Society.

Today Gales continued, there are approximately 600 lighthouses in existence in the United States, which were once maintained and cared for by keepers and their families.  “Originally there were 1,000,” according to Gales.

“Originally lights that shone out to sea from lighthouses, were created by an oil lamp projected through a lens. Of course, the flame in the open air could blow out,” he said.   Modern technology eliminated the need for the oil lamp flame.

There is only one lighthouse where there is still a lighthouse keeper, the Boston Light. This keeper was established by Congress to honor all of the United States. The keeper there does not tend the light but is instead involved in greeting visitors, giving tours and educational presentations.

Due to modernization fewer lighthouses are now needed.  Since the year 2000, lighthouses which are no longer needed are first offered to non-profits, historical societies, local and state governments, who can submit proposals for use of the lighthouse.  The lighthouse is awarded to the organization with the best proposal at no charge. If there are no proposals submitted then the lighthouse can be sold at auction to the highest bidder.

To those thinking of bidding on a lighthouse Gales reminds them “Lighthouses are built in harsh environments so they require constant maintenance.  The more remote and exposed the property is the more difficult they are to maintain. “

The oldest functioning lighthouse is in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. “Many of the lighthouses on the East Coast are from the Colonial Era.” he said.

Another historic lighthouse is located at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys. At this fort Dr. Mudd served prison time for treating John Wilkes Booth. Mudd did not know who Booth was at the time he treated him. However, after President Lincoln was assassinated, the government arrested anyone associated with John Wilkes Booth. Some were put to death, however Mudd was put in prison. for many years serving as a doctor there, until he was offered a pardon.

Currently The U.S. Lighthouse Society is working with the National Park Service and the Coast Guard to preserve the light house on Alcatraz Island.  “This is the location of the first lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States and has never been available for public access. 1.5 million people a year visit Alcatraz island. We are hoping if visitors learn about lighthouses and their preservation, they will take away a desire to become involved in restoration projects in their own area,” Gales said.  More information on the Lighthouse Preservation Society can be found at www. uslhs.org