In Search of Lighthouses & Historical Preservation

by Wheel Me On... 2000; 2007


Rendezvous with Lights 2006

Power of Light: Massachusetts Coastline ~ The Carolina's ~ Coast of Georgia

State of Michigan ~ Ontario, Canada ~ Along the Gulf Coast ~

Visit: Outer Banks Lighthouse Society

Moving Point Clarksville

Dedicated to the Services of the United States Coast Guard

Oddly, lighthouses caused a dilemma many years ago when they pin pointed where battles of war would begin while at the same time warned of reefs. They marked our beginnings, stood their ground, and America we became. As time went on, lighthouse beacons continued to bring ships to shore safely and kept others from crashing into the reefs. Our world of knowledge over the years never really designated lighthouses as obsolete. They still stand, some preserved and opened to the public, and some destroyed by weather and years of service, and others still with Keepers. The United States Coast Guard serves our country from many of the lighthouses throughout America, with Search and Rescue Teams, Law Enforcement, Marine Environmental Protection, Port Safety and Security, and as Aids to Navigation. Our search for lighthouses goes on into the new century, recording dates of visits, pictures, and personal notes of travel. The difference today in which many of us see these lighthouses is from a wheelchair, giving a totally different perspective, and often difficult challenges for the photography.

The Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) replacing the need for sea merchant lights has placed government built lighthouses out of commission. In other words, it is not expected that additional lighthouses will be built in the United States of America. GPS has literally replaced the need for beacons from towers in areas to protect merchants traveling into ports, and the United States Coast Guard is painfully giving them up, or turning them over to non-profit groups.

Lighthouses presently own and run by the United States Coast Guard are not easily accessible, unless you have "strings" to pull, however in most cases, you can get an "up-close" view of them. The Executive Vice-President of Wheel Me On does concur with this statement, but was quick to point out that most are operated by electricity. Existing lighthouses presently being operated by the United States Coast Guard might be obtained through information on the Internet with your search engine or by contacting the United States Lighthouse Society.

Even with the United States Coast Guard turning lighthouses over to various lighthouse organizations, and in some cases, private individuals, the future is bright for Lighthouse lovers with disabilities. Many of the non-profit groups such as the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society in North Carolina, is in the process of making plans for lantern rooms located in new buildings on the ground (20-30 feet high), making viewing of the Fresnel lens accessible to children and people using wheelchairs. Lighthouse enthusiasts are hopeful this will be a trend for many of the Fresnel lens that are obsolete, and the continuance of the beacon shining in the night, with either non-profit organizations keeping them working, private individuals, or State Parks overseeing the project of the towers not being destroyed by neglect.

Maintaining the lighting apparatuses, whether it is a Fresnel lens or aero beacon in towers, is an important issue. The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act passes the lighthouses into the realm of becoming historic structures, rather than destroying them, and allows people of all ages to learn the history behind these towers of light as part of our American Heritage, by keeping the structures intact. The National Park Service provides a web site to Lighthouse Heritage and the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 provides documentation on exactly what the government is doing to protect our American landmarks.

Protecting the Lighthouse Heritage of America is a major reason to restore and maintain American Lighthouses and towers. Eventually, all of the Lighthouses in the United States of America will be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. What the future holds for these Historic Landmarks will depend on the lighthouse societies, and in some cases, people who have actually purchased properties from the government. People visiting should seek the history of the light, by reading or inquiring about it, (typically posted in an accessible area when visiting), experiencing the museum, (most often accessible), spending lots of money in the gift shop, (if available), and not forgetting to donate to the Historic Lighthouse Society before leaving.

In Search of Lighthouses is a program Wheel Me On provides for the benefit of the educational value it offers members and their families.

Information Provided By
Research Through Wheel Me On

~ David F. Musgraves, USCG ~ The North Carolina Outer Banks Lighthouse Society ~ Julia Hollenbeck

Alexander Hamilton
First Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington and the first "superintendent" of lighthouses for the United States

by Cheryl Shelton Roberts

Contemporary writers have called Cape Hatteras "Hamilton's Light." There was for years a persistent story that Hamilton almost wrecked while serving as cabin boy on a ship in a storm off Cape Hatteras. This story is apparently not true. However, Hamilton's strong interest in lighthouses, and in particular, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, derived from his belief that lighthouses created good trading conditions essential to create a prosperous economy for America. As first Secretary of the Treasury, serving for two terms in his beloved President Washington's cabinet, it was Hamilton who created and was the architect of the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment while building the process he put in place for a national treasury and bank. In a very real sense, he was the first superintendent of America's lighthouses. Many of the letters exchanged between President Washington and Secretary Hamilton discussed the needs for lights to mark dangerous sections along the eastern seaboard. It was Hamilton who pushed for the enactment of the ninth act of the first congress that placed lighthouses under federal control, in effect taking them away from local and state authorities. The major shift was to build lights to warn of dangers like those at Diamond Shoals. Before Hamilton was put in charge, merchants at local ports and state-supported lighthouse projects were interested in harbor lights serving the immediate means of merchants with heavy investments in shipping, not those along the coast built in states other than to their interests as warning lights. Hamilton's plan thus put lighthouses at the forefront of building a network of guiding lights leading to and from major eastern ports as part of a plan to provide safe shipping to all ports as a common benefit.

In 1792, as the country grew and his responsibilities as Secretary of the Treasury also expanded, Hamilton transferred direct responsibility for lighthouse locations and construction to Tench Coxe, Director of the Revenue within the Department of the Treasury. He personally traveled to Cape Hatteras to inspect the construction of the 1803 lighthouse.

Hamilton also believed in the development of the country not only as an agrarian economy as it was in the late eighteenth century but also in the manufacturing arena. To do so, shipments of goods to and from the country were part of his vision to develop and populate the interior of the country. Though partisan politics put him at odds from time to time with John Adams, James Monroe, and Aaron Burr, he persisted to always defend his belief that America would become great only if it had a strong central government, leading the way to economical prosperity. As a fledgling nation, the concern on the part of local governments was who would pay the bill for building lighthouses. Through import and excise taxes, Hamilton did a brilliant job to persuade Congress, then reluctant to spend money on aids to navigation, to build the first federal lighthouses and established a national legacy. Aptly named: "federal octagonals" these were strong and robust structures of which nine of the eleven still stand. Bald Head Island Light was the last federal octagonal constructed and it survives today.

Hamilton's oldest son, Philip, also held strong political views. It is presumed that a heated argument with orator George I. Eacker was in defense of his father's philosophy. In November 1801, Philip, merely nineteen-years-old, accepted a challenge to duel, which took place at Weehawken, New Jersey, where dueling remained a legal way to settle differences. Philip was mortally wounded. He was returned to New York where his devoted, devastated father watched him die inch by inch. And, as it often does, history would repeat itself.

Hamilton literally died defending his strong central government philosophy and the crucial importance of good foreign trade relations. Due to partisan politics, he had made a foe in statesman Aaron Burr. Burr had joined the revolutionary army and served as aide-de-camp to General Israel Putnam, a rival general of George Washington. Hamilton was endlessly faithful to Washington. Burr resented the fact that the commander-in-chief had been slow in granting him a promotion in rank and supported General Horatio Gates in his attempt to defeat Washington as commander of the Continental army. Furthermore, Burr was close to John Adams who viciously attacked Hamilton personally for having been the foreign-born (St. Croix) illegitimate child of poor parents. Hamilton swore to ruin his political career. That Burr was close to Adams perhaps was enough to encourage Hamilton to attack him as well. Both men were intelligent, given to dramatic speeches, and loved as well as hated alike in their political arenas. In 1800 when Jefferson and Burr tied for Presidential electoral votes, Hamilton supported Jefferson, gaining the additional 36 ballots needed for his election. Later, when Burr ran for governor of New York in 1804, Hamilton again supported the Republican opponent rather than his own Federalist's party choice in Burr. This defeat inflamed Burr.

Burr challenged his archrival to a duel at Weehawken on July 11, 1804. Historians find Hamilton's resignation to the event puzzling. Burr mortally wounded Hamilton on the first shot, paralyzing him from the waist down. He later died slowly the following afternoon just as his son had only three years earlier. Tragedy continued to plague Burr's family. About a decade after the tragic duel, Burr's dearest daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston, sailed past the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Hamilton's Light, on her final life's journey.

A Lifelong Search

by Julia Hollenbeck
1999; 2002; 2004 to Present

USS Mariposa
It is not just lighthouses that capture my interest, but it is also everything else that goes along with them: Water, ships, and sailors. The feeling of sand between my toes, tasting salt water, smelling plant life along the sand, hearing waves wash upon the shore, and sitting on the beach waiting for a ship to be guided safely in to land. My mother loved to sail and had made several sails to Hawaii over a period of time. She is pictured on the left with an Uncle, sailing on the Mariposa from Los Angeles, California in 1930 for Honolulu.

USS Washington It was not much different for my father who is pictured on the right sailing from New York in 1940 to the Hawaiian Islands. Ultimately, the two of them meant on board a cruise line. So I suppose my love for the sea must have been bred into me, otherwise I could not feel the things I do, nor have the dreams.

During the early 1940's my parents owned a couple of Little Boat and Yacht Shops in the San Francisco Bay area in California. After the war, and in the middle of a shipping strike, the business was closed. Mother made her fifth trip with her children in October, 1946 aboard the S.S. Matsonia for Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. We took residence in Waimanalo, where Uncle John had decided to remain following his last voyage. And as a child of three, I took to the sea like a fish in water.

I remember many long walks along the beach with Uncle John, early in the morning, and slowly edging our way along the shoreline. I can still vividly hear the waves lazily rolling onto the shore during low tide and smell the scent of the seaweed that often lay freshly on the sand from the night before. We would scan the ocean for glass balls that might bob across the ocean from Japan. Sometimes spotting one and waiting for it to come to shore, we sat on the sand and watched sand crabs scurry across the freshly washed beach from a small wave that had just receded back into the ocean. Eventually the glass ball would drift close enough to the shallow water and Uncle John would let me retrieve it. Often, we would find the dark green balls on the beach, waiting for someone to pick up. I still have a few of these balls, now stowed beneath a glass top table along with other treasures from the sea.

The lighthouses came in the months and years ahead, as did my love for sailing. Growing up in Hawaii there were three lighthouses that I felt kin to because that was all there were, and the older I became, the more they intrigued me.

Makapuu Point (1909)
Waimanalo, Eastern end, Oahu

During the late 1940's Makapuu Lighthouse was still considered new. I vaguely remember the lighthouse until I was older. Except for knowing that it was there and off limits to me only made my curiosity increase.

Diamond Head (1899; 1918)
SW side of Diamond Head, on the edge of Oahu

Viewed from Main Road
1997 Picture courtesy of Chickie Backhaus

The history behind Diamond Head Lighthouse is a little confusing. Recorded dates the structure was built include the years posted above and also 1917. It is built at the base of an extinct volcano known as Diamond Head next to the ocean. It has a square masonry tower and a 3rd order fresnal lens that can be seen for 18 miles. The light was automated in 1924 and is still active.

I do not recall seeing Diamond Head Lighthouse until I was a young teenager and discovered a place where I could descend down to it on what was then a private road entrance. From another area along the road that circled the volcano (Diamond Head) above the lighthouse, I could clearly see her below on the beach, but the very best view if not from shore, was from the very top of Diamond Head Crater. (Which at that time, was not accessible to the general public.) There were many stops in the years ahead to see this light in the darkness of the night; a pleasure with several friends to count the beacons became a favorite past time in the quiet of the night as I got older. We would hop over the cement wall along the road, carefully go down the side of the hill, and then sit to listen to the waves and watch the beacon.

Barbers Point, Oahu (1888; 1933)
Kalaeloa, SW point, EWA Beach, Oahu

My attachment to Barbers Point did not occur until I was a young adult, married and with my first born son. Soon after, I left my beloved Hawaii for California. Regrettably, I never took any pictures of the lighthouses on Oahu, not even when I returned to Hawaii for visits. I suppose this continued loss of photography gave me the excuse to keep going back. Oddly every time I do, I see the lighthouses, but never take the pictures. Only my very favorite has been added here, submitted by a dear friend.

In my mind I suppose it means these lighthouses will always be there for me and I know I will return because when I see a lighthouse or range light ever since I left the island in 1964, I've made it a point to photograph these spectacular points of interest. Sadly, photography had been lost over the years, but in recent months, I have re-discovered the beauty of this favorite past time and now make it a point to chronolog every one I visit as a physically challenged individual. It is interesting to note that dates falling within a chain of events sometimes entwine themselves with my passion for lighthouses. For example, a year ago I visited a remarkable lighthouse on the island of Cozumel in Mexico unexpectedly on my birthday.

My son David who also shares the interest of these guardians of the night and is in the United States Coast Guard, reported to Port Huron, Michigan on August 1, 1999. Exactly one year later I made a visit to Port Huron to visit my son and family. Upon my arrival, his first stop on the way to his home was to show me the Port Huron Lighthouse. Of course, all of us went on a search for lighthouses during my two-week visit and David drove for miles to take me to as many as what was realistic, commuting back and forth from Port Huron.

One evening, as he showed me some pictures, he found one taken in 1987 when I met him in Oregon for a visit. Our first trek was to locate the Umpqua River Lighthouse near Coos Bay. I could not climb the stairs in the lighthouse and sat in our rented vehicle while David went in to the Coast Guard Station.

As he showed me the pictures, I finally remembered the visit. I also remembered how much he too was intrigued by these magnificent beacons. An excellent photographer, he wisely thought to take a picture of the beacon from inside the lighthouse. I took a picture from the car of the lighthouse as he walked back across the road.

Umpqua River Lighthouse
(1857; 1894)
South side of mouth of river, 19 miles North of Coos Bay

Visited Spring, 1987

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