I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.George Bernard Shaw
The last sentry upon the rocky shore, casting its beam of light out into the dark waters, lighthouses have long captured our imaginations. Situated along the coastlines aind harbor entrances around the world, they’ve prevented disasters and saved lives at sea.
When you visit a lighthouse, it’s easy to get wrapped up in ghosts and folklore. Invariably you climb a spiral staircase to the top for the vantage point. If you’re lucky, you can go outside and feel the salty breeze of the sea and hear the gulls playing overhead. With the crashing surf below, you can imagine yourself a lighthouse keeper attending to the ships at sea, the sole beacon of light in the face of a raging storm. Oh, the stories I’m sure they could tell.
In honor of National Lighthouse Day on August 7, we’re featuring 10 beautiful lighthouses of the United States. From Maine down to Florida, and from California to Hawaii and on up to Alaska, we hope they inspire some regional trips in which you can surround yourself for a moment in their scenic beauty and historical significance.
Portland Head Lighthouse was commissioned by George Washington in 1791 and is the oldest lighthouse in Maine. Sitting at the entrance to the Casco Bay and the Portland Shipping Channel, it has remarkable views from its vantage point. And as an extra bonus, from this lighthouse, you will also see four additional lighthouses dotting the craggy coastline. (And as an extra bonus, there was a really awesome food truck with lobster rolls when I visited last year!)
Block Island Southeast Lighthouse is one of the more visually striking lighthouses in the United States. To visit, one must be dropped off by ferry and walk, or taxi, to the site only in the summer months. Even today, you can see the light flash green every five seconds and hear the fog signal give one blast every 30 seconds.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the New London Ledge Lighthouse was built in 1909 at the mouth of the New London Harbor in Connecticut. It is one of the nation’s more unusual looking lighthouses. According to local legend, the nearby residents didn’t want to gaze out to sea to a structure that would be out of place among their Colonial & French architectural large homes, so the lighthouse was built in the same fashion.
Bodie Island Lighthouse, in Cape Hatteras, was only 90 feet tall when initially erected in 1803, and after several renovations and reconstructions, it is the tallest of the U.S. lighthouses. This lighthouse’s location is at the intersection of a very hazardous area of the Atlantic Coast where currents force southbound ships into a dangerous 12-mile long sandbar. As a consequence, hundreds, and maybe more, shipwrecks have occurred in this area giving it the reputation as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” It’s very distinctive exterior is painted in a black (nightmark) and white (daymark) pattern to allow ship captains to recognize at any time of day or night as they sailed along the coast.
Built in 1887, the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse is located just 12 miles south of Daytona Beach. It is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the United States. Still a functioning lighthouse, it operates with the fully restored original lenses in the lantern room, as well as the original lenses from the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. These combined with other original lighthouse lenses make it the largest collection in the world.
Located in crescent City, California, just 20 miles south of the Oregon border, the Battery Point Lighthouse is quite literally a house with a light on it. Built in 1856, the structure is reminiscent of Cape Code architecture. Vistors may only access it during low tied, so call ahead if you’re in the area.
Diamond Head, in Oahu, goes its name back in the early 1800’s when sailors believed there diamonds in the rocks. Those “diamonds” turned out to be calcite crystals though the original speculation was enough for the name to stick. During World War II, a Coast Guard radio station was housed at the lighthouse keeper’s residence. Today, besides being an active lighthouse, it also marks the finish line for the biennial Transpac Yacht Race, which begins in Long Beach, California.
Located near Florence, Oregon, along the amazing Oregon Coast, the Heceta Lighthouse is likely one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States. Sitting atop the 1,000-foot high Heceta Head, the light is housed in a tower that is 56-feet tall and is rated the strongest light on the Oregon Coast. Adjacent to the lighthouse is the assistant lightkeeper’s house that is currently a function Bed & Breakfast. Visitors can stay in this home built in 1893, imagine the life of a lightkeeper and enjoy spectactular ocean views.
The North Head Lighthouse is the second lighthouse at the mouth of the Colubia River from the Pacific Ocean in Washington. The first lighthouse was built in 1856, and despite its building, ships ran aground so much that the area is knows as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Because of this, the original lighthouse was dubbed “Cape Disappointment,” and the lighthouse known as North Head was built nearby in 1898. The location is considered to be one of the windiest places in the U.S., with wind speeds in excess of 100mph frequently recorded.
Built in 1905, Eldred Rock Lighthouse is the oldest original lighthouse in Alaska and the only octagonal frame lighthouse remaining in the state. The first floor of the lighthouse is concrete and the second floor of wood, and surprisingly, it is also the only lighthouse station not to have been rebuilt (though it is currently in desperate need of repair). Located in Southeast Alaska, at the Lynn Canal near Skagway, it is likely the most remote lighthouse in the United States.