Shortly About Everything - The Lighthouses

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Shortly About Everything - The Lighthouses

The need of lighted beacons to guide water craft along the coasts must have suggested itself to mankind as soon as there was much venturing upon the water. The lofty Pharos of Alexandria, near the mouth of the Nile, was completed under Ptolemy II, about 280 B.C. In height and fame it has never been surpassed by any other lighthouse and is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. Many of the world’s early lighthouses may have looked like this Roman lighthouse that still stands in Dover, England.

The number of lights in the world, however, was relatively small when the first lighthouse in the North American colonies was established on Great Brewster Island at Boston in 1716.

One of the most frequently asked questions is how many lighthouses have been built. This is not a question that can be easily answered because almost every lighthouse has been rebuilt at one time or another. How much change has to take place before the old structure loses its identity and becomes a new one? For example, the Point Bonita light was built on a promenade too high above the sea to be effective. A shorter tower, the one pictured, was erected at a lower site and the lantern house--the top third of the structure--was removed from the original tower and placed on top of the new structure. Is this one or two lighthouses? Another lighthouse which clouds the count is Matinicus Rock light. The two towers which connected to the keepers quarters were capped and new towers, which were also attached to the keepers quarters were built. How many lights is this--one, two, or four? A number of sites had two unconnected towers and one even had three.

I believe that nearly 1,500 lighthouse sites have existed in the United States at one time or another. I will not hazard a guess as to have many towers have been built but I am bold enough to try to group them. Lighthouses may be categorized in many ways, one of which is by types of construction. The evolution of lighthouses has taken centuries and is profoundly influenced by the development of technology.

Lighthouses as you know are very personal. They come in many shapes and sizes and everyone has his own definition and these vary sufficiently. When one thinks of lighthouses, the average person conjures up an image of a tall white tower on a point of land. Actually, lighthouses in this country were built in many shapes, sizes, and heights including cylindrical, conical, square, octagonal, and even triangular shaped, with towers that stand as high as 208 feet. Politics, special needs, cost, location, geography at the site, and available technology at the time of construction also influenced lighthouse design.

Today, one need only review the literature to discover that most lighthouse books approach the subject on a regional basis.

Few lighthouse books, because of their regional approach, however, have a need to address trends in lighthouse construction.