Derelict Lighthouse Built at Time of American Independence
The Point of Ayr Lighthouse at the entrance to the Dee Estuary in Wales has stood over 2½ times longer than it was in use. Built in 1776, the year of American Independence, the lighthouse was discontinued way back in 1844, nearly 180 years ago. Shown here, from a photograph taken on August 14, 1977, are Bill Bailey, a businessman from Preston, Lancashire, England, along with his wife, Barbara, with their recently-purchased, abandoned lighthouse that they planned to turn into a vacation home. Whether they ever achieved their goal is unknown, but we do know the lighthouse has had a few other owners since then. A storm in 2007, nearly toppled the structure, which is surrounded by water at high tide. The entryway building, shown in this photo, is no longer there. We’re not sure when it came down. In 2007 the lighthouse was sold for $110,000. In 2010, the owner installed a sculpted figure on the balcony to honor the ghost who reportedly haunts the lighthouse.
America’s First Lighthouse – They Almost Got It Right
The headline that accompanied this original Associated Press photograph of Virginia’s Cape Henry Lighthouse, taken on April 29, 1929, read as follows: America’s First Lighthouse to be Preserved. They almost got it right, but we guess that all depends on semantics – whether you are referring to America as the United States of America, or all of the Americas, and other factors. For example, Sambro Island Lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada, built in 1760, is the oldest operational lighthouse in North America; and Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey, first lighted on June 1, 1764, is the oldest operational lighthouse in the United States. Going back even further, a lighthouse was first built in Boston Harbor in 1716, but it was destroyed by the British in 1776 and not rebuilt until 1783, but not by the federal government. Plus, there were a number of other colonial lighthouses built before the nation officially began to operate as the United States of America under the new constitution in March of 1789. One such example would be Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine that was ordered to be built in 1787 under the orders of John Hancock, who was governor of Massachusetts when Maine was part of Massachusetts; but it was the new federal government that provided the money to complete construction of the lighthouse that was lit in 1791. Anyway, it was Cape Henry Lighthouse, that was the first lighthouse fully authorized by the First Congress of the United States. The lighthouse was in operation until 1881 when it was officially replaced by the “New” Cape Henry Lighthouse built nearby. The caption that went with this 1929 photo stated that the Cape Henry Lighthouse “will be preserved as a monument to the landing of the first English settlers and the building of their settlement on the Virginia cape. Annual memorial services are held around the old structure in memory of the first colonists.” In 2018, the lighthouse was closed for exterior and interior renovations, but is now open to the public for seasonal climbing. The area around the lighthouse looks somewhat different today than when this photograph was taken in 1929. The lighthouse is now within the boundaries of Fort Story and Naval ships can often be seen in the ocean in the distance.
Frankfort South Pier Light
Quite often, old post cards offer the best saved image of a lighthouse, especially when actual photos are rare or in some cases nonexistent. This post card image is the 1873 Frankfort South Pierhead Lighthouse, that in 1903, was equipped with a steam powered fog-horn, as shown in the copper trumpet that can be seen emerging from the tower on the lakeward face of the structure. This wooden tower was demolished in 1912. This post card image is not to be confused with the Frankfort North Pierhead Lighthouse that we all see today that was raised in height in 1932, and is also known as the Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse. To learn about the complete history of the Frankfort Lighthouse, refer to the March 2012 edition of Lighthouse Digest. The story is also available in our free online archives.
Topless on the North Sea Coast
This original photograph, taken on January 13, 1950 for the Eastern Daily Press of England, that just came into our collection, is of the lantern-less Winterton Lighthouse on the North Sea coast of England. The caption that ran with the news story, for this photo, read as follows: “Between two world wars the bungalows beside the Winterton Lighthouse, then occupied by Lord Elmley, a former East Norfolk M.P., were the scene of many meetings at election time. The lighthouse has not functioned for many years.” The Winterton Lighthouse, completed around 1867, was in use until 1921, and its lantern was removed the following year and sold at auction along with some surrounding land and service buildings. In 1939, the former lighthouse was commandeered for use by the military and a round observation room, as shown in this photograph, was built at the top of the tower. In 1965, the tower and adjacent property were sold to the owners of an adjoining holiday park. The wartime observation deck, shown in this photo, was removed on 2012 and a lantern was installed at the top of the tower to bring back its original lighthouse appearance. The exquisitely restored lighthouse is now available for short term rental.
Made it on a Postage Stamp
The caption with this original press photo issued in September of 1986 said, “Bremerhaven, Germany: It’s been years since the oldest lighthouse in the mouth of the Weser, the Hohe Weg Lighthouse, was considered a technical sensation. Today it is under monument protection, has just been restored for around 300,000 Deutsche Mark ($165,000) and equipped with the latest technical equipment and a new radar system. This means that the maritime veteran is once again an important link in high-tech, modern shipping.” Built in 1856, the lighthouse appeared on a German postage stamp in 2006.
A Lighthouse Mystery at Robbins Reef
The 1883 Robbins Reef Lighthouse near Staten Island New York is shown here in what we believe was a publicity photo for some type of fundraiser. It shows a man in the boat dressed in some type of colonial garb while raising a bucket up to the Coast Guard keeper or having it lowered to the boat below, probably collecting a donation. We are dating the photo as the early 1960s, before the lighthouse was automated in 1966 and before the canopy was removed. If anyone can help us with more information about this photograph or when the canopy was removed, we’d love to hear from you.
Lens Saved From Lost Lighthouse
The story with this original photo, that was published on Oct 4, 1973, read: “A hand-crafted contemporary of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty – also French made and just as timeless was formally presented Wednesday to the Louisiana Maritime Museum.” The 3.5 order bivalve Fresnel lens (shown) is from the Chandeleur Lighthouse in the Gulf of Mexico, near New Orleans, Louisiana, and was in use from 1886 to 1949. It was presented to the Louisiana Maritime Museum by Rear Admiral Ellis Perry (1919-2002), who was the commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District. Shown with him are Mrs. Robert B. Streckfus (Marvel Levenia Suitt Streckfus), president of the museum, and F. X. McNerney, president of the Propeller Club of the United States – Port of New Orleans. Editor’s Note: The Louisiana Maritime Museum is now the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum. And, on August 29, 2004, the Chandeleur Lighthouse was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and no trace of the 100-foot-tall tower has been found.
First Solar Cell Use at a Lighthouse
According to the newspaper caption that went with this press photo published on October 23, 1977, Long Island Sound’s Stratford Shoal Lighthouse, near Bridgeport, Connecticut, has the unique distinction of being the first lighthouse in the United States to have a solar cell-powered RAMOS weather station. The caption read that the station stands silently to report meteorological data for weather forecasts in an area heavily used by commercial and recreational boaters. “The National Weather Service and engineers from NASA’s Lewis Research Center selected Stratford Shoals and five other isolated sites around the United States as part of a series of experiments designed to prove the reliability and economic feasibility of solar cell electrical power generation.” It must have worked, because we all know where we are today, 46-years later with the success of solar power. And, as Paul Harvey used to say on his famous radio show, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
Two Lighthouses in One
Florida’s Key Largo Lighthouse, a privately built structure, is shown here from a press photo that was published on October 27, 1976. Today, with its red-and-white checkerboard painted colors, it looks much different than it did when this photo was taken. However, what many people don’t know is that the lantern on the Key Largo Lighthouse is from the former Rebecca Shoal Lighthouse that was built in 1886, out in the ocean east of Garden Key off the coast of Key West, Florida, that was demolished in 1953. The lantern was sold for scrap, but, at some point, the private owner of the Key Largo Lighthouse was able to purchase the lantern and install it atop his lighthouse where it remains to this day.
Big Gun Protects Key West Lighthouse
In this photo published on August 8, 1972, it appears that this gun turret from a warship is ready to protect Florida’s 1848 Key West Lighthouse and blast away at any attempted invasion of the area. In fact, it was part of a giant military collection that was on display inside the former keeper’s house and on the grounds of the lighthouse. All of the military collection was removed in 1988 and the lighthouse and grounds were transformed to how it would have looked when the keepers and their families lived there.
Powerful, Giant Lens at Paris Exposition of 1937
This lens, that garnered a large amount of attention at the Paris Exposition of 1937, was destined for delivery and installation at the 1863 Créac’h Lighthouse in Ushant, France to become the most powerful lens in all of Europe and one of the most powerful in the world. The caption with this extremely rare and valuable Acme News Pictures photo, dated September 10, 1937, read: “Each night this beacon of half-billion candle-power adds its glare to the brilliant illumination of the Paris Exposition of 1937.” Interestingly, a brochure about the expo boasted that the lens was “two billion candle power.” A newspaper story that described the lens stated: “The light is 12 meters high and has a diameter of 5½ meters. Weighing 35½ tons, the apparatus rests on a base of metal floating in a bath of almost a ton of mercury. This liquid permits the beacon being rotated at the speed of one complete turn every 40 seconds. This lantern has two stories, each equipped with a system of lenses, one of above the other. “In good weather lamps of three kilowatts will be used, but to pierce a fog there will be lamps of fifty kilowatts, using a continuous current.” The lens was finally installed at the lighthouse in 1939. Today, the site is the home of the French Lighthouse Museum that was established in 1988.
The Last of His Kind
Shown here is lighthouse keeper Gordon Medlicott, cleaning the lens at England’s famous Longstone Lighthouse in September 1988, in a photo taken by Eric Roberts for The Daily Telegraph. The Longstone Lighthouse was built in 1826 on Longstone Rock, one of the Outer Staple Islands off the northeast coast of England near the community of Bamburgh. Gordon is the author of the book, An Illuminating Experience, that was published by Whittles Publishing in England, where he wrote, “In my 32 years as a lighthouse keeper I serviced 22 lighthouses . . . The industry went through massive changes before we were finally made redundant in 1998 when automation took over. We knew about it from the early 1980s, so it didn’t come as a shock. We saw the beginning of the end when they installed the helipads: no longer could bad weather stop boats getting out to fix the light, and that signaled the end of live-in keepers.” His book is very hard to find in the United States but copies of it have been seen for sale on the website of Abe Books.
Last Lady Lightkeeper in UK
Peggy Braithwaite, who was the last lady lighthouse keeper in the United Kingdom, is shown in this press photo dated January 7, 1998, at the Walney Lighthouse, an 80-foot-tall lighthouse that was built in 1804, at the southern end of Walney Island in the Irish Sea, northwest of England. Having followed in her father’s footsteps as the principal keeper in 1974, she lived in one of the keepers’ houses at the lighthouse for over 60 years. She is shown here with Bluey, one of the two pet Springer Spaniels who lived with her and her husband at the lighthouse. In 1984, Peggy was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Peggy Braithwaite retired in 1994 and died two years later at the age of 76.
Shown in this photo, taken in September of 1988, is England’s Longstone Lighthouse that was made famous by the 1838 amazing rescue of nine shipwreck victims in rough seas by lighthouse keeper William Darling and his 22-year-old daughter, Grace. Much like today, a media frenzy ensued about the young lady who risked her own life in a small rowboat to save others. Of the 62 people on board the vessel, three lives were lost; two children and one adult. With the exception of nine other survivors who were picked up by a passing ship, the rest of the survivors spent the night at the lighthouse. It didn’t take long for Grace Darling’s fame to grow and, as well as financial rewards, she received many praises from the public. Before long there were a number of fictionalized accounts of her part in the recuse and numerous artists visited the lighthouse to paint her depiction. To learn more about Grace Darling, you can read her life story in the October 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest. If you do not have a copy of that issue in your collection, the story is available in our online archives at www.LighthouseDigest.com. The Longstone Lighthouse was automated in 1990; however, in season, there are boat tours to the island.
Don’t Stand Too Close
Wow, look at the size of this foghorn at the Corsewall Lighthouse at the mouth of the Loch Ryan on the west coast of Scotland. The April 26, 1994 photograph shows the lighthouse keeper, James Dalling, standing underneath the foghorn at the 1815 lighthouse at the time the lighthouse was being automated and its keepers removed. You wouldn’t want to have been standing underneath this fog horn when it went off. During foggy conditions, it gave 4 blasts every 90 seconds. The keeper’s quarters at the Corsewall Lighthouse have since been transformed into a luxury hotel and restaurant that is open year-round. If you do go, you won’t have to worry about the fog horn, it was discontinued in 1987.
Opening of a Visitors Center
This 1989 press photo (shown below) from the North News depicts a momentous occasion commemorating the official opening of the Visitor Center and Museum at the decommissioned St. Mary’s Island Lighthouse on Whitley Bay on the northeast coast of England. The newspaper caption that went with this photo said: “Sir Derek Barber on the storm-tossed rocks of St. Mary’s Island as he releases a mallard duck to mark the opening of a visitor center on the island by the Countryside Commission.” It is unclear what the release of the duck was supposed to symbolize for this event at the 1898 lighthouse.
This story appeared in the
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