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Since the creation of the US Lighthouse Establishment in 1789 by the First Congress to manage the 12 colonial lighthouses, and the building of the Cape Henry Lighthouse -- the nation's first public works project -- lighthouses have been an important part of our nation's history. They comprise some of the country's oldest and most historic structures and represent many diverse styles of architecture and design. Over time, technological advances have decreased their importance as navigational tools, but they remain important symbols of our maritime heritage.

The United States has the largest number of lighthouses of any country in the world. In recent years, many of these landmarks have been turned over to non-profit organizations for the purpose of restoration and the establishment of lighthouse parks and museums. Some of the most significant lighthouses have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a smaller number have been preserved on National Park Service property. In this segment I'll cover lighthouses in the national parks of the Pacific and Great Lakes regions; in the next segment, I'll cover the Atlantic seaboard.

The Pacific Region

In Hawaii, the Kalaupapa National Historical Park includes the Molokai Light Station, the tallest US lighthouse in the Pacific Ocean. Built in 1909, it  stands on the northern tip of the peninsula and still guides ocean vessels past Molokai and into Honolulu Harbor on Oahu. California includes a number of lighthouses that are located on land administered by the National Park Service. Located on the rocky promontory of the Point Reyes Headlands, the Point Reyes Lighthouse (established in 1870) offers an excellent vantage point from which to observe marine life at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

California's Point Reyes Lighthouse, established in 1871.
courtesy of the National Park Service

The National Park Service maintains three lighthouses in the San Francisco area. Built in 1864 and deactivated in 1933, the Fort Point Lighthouse sits under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Fort Point National Historic Site. Alcatraz Island, one of most popular destinations of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, includes Alcatraz Island Light, the first and oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast. The original lighthouse was damaged in the earthquake of 1906 and a new lighthouse was built and activated three years later.  The Golden Gate NRA also houses the Point Bonita Light Station. Situated at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, it was originally built in 1856 and then rebuilt in 1877.

Extending along the southern California coast from Point Conception near Santa Barbara to just north of Los Angeles, Channel Islands National Park  is home to the Anacapa Island Light, situated at the entrance to Santa Barbara Channel. Further to the south, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse guarded the San Diego Bay from 1855 to 1891. Today, as part of the Cabrillo National Monument, the lighthouse interior has been refurbished by the National Park Service to its 1880’s appearance.

The Great Lakes Region

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin features an assemblage of lighthouses that together represent an important period in the historic development of the region. These include: Michigan Island Lighthouse, the oldest of the Apostle Islands light stations, built in 1857; Raspberry Island Lighthouse, the most frequently visited of the Apostle Islands light stations;  Outer Island Lighthouse, built in 1874; Sand Island Lighthouse, the only lighthouse in the Apostles constructed of locally quarried brownstone; Long Island Light Station, which includes both the LaPointe and the Chequamegon Point lights; and Devil's Island Lighthouse, activated in 1891 as the final piece in the series of lights around the Apostle Islands.  When the Devil's Island light station was automated in 1978, it marked the end of more than a century of lightkeepers tending lights in the Apostle Islands.

Outer Island Light Station in Wisconsin's Apostle Island National Park.
courtesy of the National Park Service

Three national parks in Michigan also feature historic lighthouses.  Isle Royale National Park, situated on the largest island in Lake Superior includes four lighthouses that were established between 1855 and 1908. These include: Isle Royale Light Station, Passage Island Light Station, Rock of Ages Light Station, and Rock Harbor Light Station.

Located on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was established in 1966 as the nation's first national lakeshore. It hugs the the Lake Superior shoreline for more than 40 miles and features the Au Sable Light Station.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in western Michigan encompasses a thirty-five mile stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou Islands. The park's many cultural features include the South Manitou Island Light Station, established in 1871. 


Other useful resources:

Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association -  non-profit organization involved in the gathering and exchange of information on the histories of the lighthouses and their keepers.

Inventory of Historic Lighthouses - part of the National Park Service's National Maritime Initiative, it includes a summary list of lighthouses, by state.

National Lighthouse Museum - situated adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in St. George, NY, facility is expected to be open to the public in the year 2000.

Publicly Accessible Lighthouses - part of the National Park Service's National Maritime Initiative, it includes a summary list of lighthouses, by state.

United States Lighthouse Society - non-profit historical and educational organization concerned with restoration and preservation of America's lighthouses.

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