Messy & Disgraceful Lighthouse History

Lighthouses were government property; we lived in them, but anyone – inspector, citizen, or military – could come to the house, expecting to find hospitality and order. If the inspector thought the lighthouse wasn’t clean or we were wasting supplies, he could dismiss us in disgrace. (Lighthouse Loyalty, Chapter 1)

No, no, lighthouses aren’t supposed to messy and disgraceful. In fact, that would be explicitly against the lighthouse keeping rules made and enforced by the U.S. Lighthouse Board or the Bureau of Lighthouses.

However, it’s worth taking a look at the “darker side” of lighthouse history. What about the few keepers who failed in their duties? What did they do? And what was the punishment? Continue reading

American Lighthouses: Then What Happened? (And What About Today?)

We’ve chatted about lighthouse history in the last couple months, and in 2018 there will be more lighthouse posts specifically related to my new novel, Lighthouse Loyalty. However, today will be the final lighthouse post since we’ll move on to Civil War maritime history in this Wednesday series.

So…I thought it might be good to answer questions about what has happened to lighthouses in American in the 20th and early 21st Century. It’s sort of an epilogue to the 19th Century lighthouse history. Continue reading

Lighthouses: Lamps & Lenses

We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about lighthouses along the U.S. coasts – New England, Middle Atlantic, Southern and Gulf, West, and Great Lakes. While we talked about architecture features, we didn’t focus on the absolute most important part of a lighthouse. In fact, take this factor away and you’d just have a building, just a house.

I’m talking about light. What produced the light and sent warning beams blazing into the darkness to warn or guide passing ships? That is today’s topic. Continue reading

The Lighthouse Board, 1852-1910

After investigations revealed neglect and penny-pinching by Stephen Pleasonton, the U.S. Government established it’s second agency: The U.S. Lighthouse Board. This agency would oversee the administration of all lighthouses within the United States, ensuring their upkeep, creating standardized rules, overseeing keepers, and allocating funds.

The “Lighthouse Board Era” is a fascinating, expansive, and detailed time in American lighthouse history. The era lasted from 1852 to 1910; at the end the Bureau of Lighthouses took over, followed by the Coast Guard in 1939.

This blog post will attempt to give some generalized historical information about the board, proceedings, and expectations – but there’s so much amazing information we can’t cover it all in 1,000 words! Enjoy the summary… Continue reading

Building American Lighthouses, 1789-1851

From its earliest days, the U.S. Government took an active role in the protection of the country’s shores and an interest in building and maintaining aids to navigation. The period from George Washington’s presidency to one decade before the Civil War laid important groundwork for the establishing and administration of lighthouses, but it was also a time penny-pinching bureaucracy which ultimately endangered maritime commerce.

No longer would each colony/state control their lighthouses. The first half-century of United States lightkeeping is an era of contrasts, contradictions, and challenges. As the nation debated interpretation of the constitution, it also questioned how lighthouses, their funding, and their administration should fit into the national setting. Lighthouses are clearly part of America’s history and democracy debates – living symbols of triumph in the chambers of Washington and the wave-battered shores. Continue reading