Atlantic Lighthouses

Ambrose Light Station in the Atlantic OceanAmbrose Light Tower - Texas Tower: Not Quite Traditional

Atlantic lighthouses of United States coastal waters were essential for getting people and supplies to land since the early days of navigation. We lighthouse fans always think of those beautiful, esthetic towers. But, really, they do include other sorts, like that light tower placed in a major shipping lane of New York Bay in 1999. The Ambrose Light was dismantled in 2008.7 Nicknamed Texas Tower lighthouses since they're reminiscent of off-shore oil platforms!1 Don't you think so?

Sometime after 1776, the U.S realized federal oversight for lighthouse maintenance was needed. This responsibility was first given to an Auditor of the Treasury Department, S. Pleasonton in 1850. This stewardship officially began with a meeting April 28, 1851. Called the Lighthouse Establishment, enabling lighthouse guardianship more efficient with passing years.8

The U.S. Atlantic Coast needed lighthouses, with its many barrier islands, treacherous currents, valuable harbors and trading ports. Severe hurricanes damaged, even ruined many Atlantic lighthouses. But many survived. Those that suffered often were saved by those of us that love their value, romance and history! Let's see what lighthouses we have along the Atlantic coast. How many have you visited? Let Us Know Your Best Atlantic Lighthouse Trip>

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Maine Lighthouses

What comes to mind thinking of Maine lighthouses? We kind of think of crashing waves on rocky wind-swept beaches, with some low-lying cliffs. What do you think of? Author W.O. Thomson said that "New England lighthouses are legendary."Maine has an overwhelming share of Atlantic lighthouse legends!

Let's think of an actual Maine lighthouse we can visit. And then some we'll have to reflect on. Here are some of these Atlantic lighthouses of Maine.

  • Goat Island Lighthouse - Near Kennebunkport, off Cape Porpoise this active light still watches over the harbor inlet. The mostly barren island is a bit over 7 acres, homing a keeper's cottage, oil house, boathouse and dock. Automated in 1990, 'til then as the last staffed Maine lighthouse.6 Visiting not possible, without special arrangements via the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust.
Goat Island Lighthouse in 1835 with it's towerThe earliest Goat Island light in 1835
Goat Island Lighthouse in 1859Vintage 1859 Photo of Goat Island Lighthouse
  • Owls Head Lighthouse - In Owls Head State Park. It's cute, diminutive, and sitting on a hilltop with style. Since 1825, at the peninsula's end, flanked by Penobscot Bay. Rebuilt in 1852, restored in 2010.8 The Keeper's home is now headquarters for the American Lighthouse Foundation.
  • Bass Harbor Lighthouse - In Arcadia National Park, Mount Desert Island. Built in 1876. The Fresnel lens still lights, guiding entry into Bass Harbor. Wonderful views on foot-paths within the park grounds, but tours inside aren't done.8
  • Marshall Point Lighthouse - At the Light Station assisting entrance to Port Clyde Harbor, installed in 1832. A new light tower replaced the original in 1857. With the keeper's residence, it's on the National Register of Historic Places. A unique design, with a land bridge boardwalk from the doorway to a landing.6 This Atlantic lighthouse is even in the Forrest Gump film!
Vintage photo of Marshall Point Lighthouse with covered bridge, pre-1895, with the original Keeper's houseMarshall Point Lighthouse Pre 1895, With Original Keeper's Home
The Newer Marshal Point Light built in 1857 still had a covered bridge from the tower to the keeper's house.The 1857 Replacement Kept the Covered Bridge - Today It's a Boardwalk
Spring Point Lighthouse, a Cassion type, which kind of looks like a spark-plug.A Cassion Lighthouse - Spring Point Ledge
  • Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse - Actually a double Atlantic lighthouse, so nicknamed "Two Lights." Within a nice Lighthouse Park for a great historic outing. On the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.8
  • Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse - The cassion lighthouse, also nicknamed sparkplug8 or bug lighthouse, because of its shape. The top part of the tower built on a metal or concrete retaining foundation called a cassion. Advantages: lower construction costs and resistance to elements. This particular "bug" is in a large shipping channel into Portland Harbor. It marks a sneaky area obstructing ledge. Old Fort Preble is alongside,6 a popular picnicking day use area.
  • Pemaquid Lighthouse - True Atlantic lighthouse history resides at the Pemaquid Point Light, starting with its 1827 commission. Then a needed rebuild in 1835 - so soon. And again in 1857!8 Rough! A beloved, popular beacon. Tours from mid-May to mid-October. Surrounded by a park/museum featuring Keeper's quarters and out-buildings. Managed by Bristol Parks and Recreation.
  • Portland Head Lighthouse - Watching over Portland Maine harbor, this lighthouse is the oldest watch light in Atlantic Maine. Now automated. See it at Fort Williams Park, currently owned by the Town of Cape Elizabeth. Wonderful place to visit.8
  • Whaleback Lighthouse - Looking at it, you know it's historic! Built in 1830, what you now see was constructed in 1872 because the original became storm-worn. At Kittery, it marks the entrance to the Piscataqua River.6
Whaleback Lighthouse in Maine, a vintage photo, circa 1847, on a brick platform. It became storm damaged over time & was replaced.Whaleback Lighthouse circa 1847
Whaleback Lighthouse of the Atlantic Coast in Maine, circa 1950Whaleback Lighthouse, circa 1950

Cape Cod Lighthouses

Lighthouses built on Cape Cod in Massachusetts faced rough weather in this Atlantic coast location. Pilgrims settling the area influenced original construction. They built their New England homes in the tradition brought with them from European homelands, where they faced harsh winters. Strong, practical, without any "fluff."3 Thus, Cape Cod styling for lighthouses, centered the light tower on the keeper's cottage roof, incorporating it into the home's structure. The all-in-one building was made functional and solid.4 But, do you think it was, really?

The Buzzards Bay Entrance Light, called a Texas Tower because it looks like an oil rig.Buzzards Bay Entrance Light Tower in 1961
  • Buzzards Bay Entrance Light - A "Texas Tower" for ships entering Buzzards Bay, the leeward approach to Cape Cod on its Southwestern side. A ship rammed the one in the photo, crippling it. A light-ship took its place until a new Entrance Light was built in 1996.6
  • Highland Light - Also called Cape Cod Lighthouse. Built in 1857, third one there, even so it's the oldest on the Cape.8 Part of Cape Cod National Seashore, which can be visited year-round. But tower tours for this Atlantic lighthouse only May to October.
  • West Dennis Light - Originally called Bass River light, currently it's atop the Lighthouse Inn, a tourist hotel. Bass River was a fishing port lane to Nantucket sound. In 1854 work started on the light and keepers home, helping seafarers navigate.6 It has the centered light of Cape Cod lighthouse styling.
Wood End Lighthouse in Provincetown Massachusetts, taken before 1961, still showing the Keeper's house, with barrels and scrap boards on the sand in front.Wood End Lighthouse, Pre-1961 - Keeper's House Still Stands
  • Wood End Lighthouse - This Lookout Station is almost as far south on the Provincetown hook of the Cape Cod peninsula as you can go. First lit November 20, 1872, became even more historical when it was Massachusetts's first solar powered lighthouse. Fully automated, only the tower and oil house remain.6
  • Long Point Lighthouse - Almost a twin to Wood End, it's nearly 2 miles further South, close to the peninsula's Southern tip. This Atlantic lighthouse helps boats round the point into Provincetown Harbor. The original light was a Cape Cod style design in 1827. The pilings were undermined with time, so this traditional tower replaced it in 1875. A keeper's home and oil shed were built, both demolished in 1982 when the light went solar.6
  • Race Point Lighthouse - From Provincetown itself, here's one for overnight stays! Well, not in the Tower, but in one of The Buildings: Keeper's House or Whistle House. Tours happen: May to Oct. Not an easy jaunt for visiting. But if you can get there, we think you won't regret it!
  • Nauset Lighthouse - A different kind of Atlantic lighthouse story! Originally built in Chatham, 1877. In 1923 relocated to Eastham, replacing 3 out-of-service wooden lighthouses: "Three Sisters of Nauset." Erosion endangered this location by 1993. Concerned citizens got it moved back, but still just 37 feet from cliff's edge to the sea below! In mid 1997 the National Park Service took ownership, with Nauset Light Preservation Society management. The Keeper's house was still endangered, but arrangements made moving it near the tower.8 Phew!
  • Monomoy Point Lighthouse - Way out on Monomoy Island Dunes, the original 1823 structure was Cape Cod style, wood with a brick lantern room. Replacing it in 1849 was cast iron construction, still standing! After the 1914 Cape Cod Canal debut, its Atlantic lighthouse need dwindled, thus deactivated in 1923. It's on the National Register of Historic Places,6 and takes guests in the Keeper's Residence.
  • Nobska Lighthouse - By Woods Hole, scanning Martha's Vineyard. When built in 1876, it had Cape Cod style. But was replaced as you see it now, a tower made of iron.8 Buildings include the beacon tower, keeper's cottage, radio house, and oil shed. All currently in disrepair. The lighthouse is automated.6
  • Stage Harbor Light - Built in 1880, used until 1933. Was useful in navigating Monomoy Point and Pollock Rip Channel areas.6 Now privately owned as a household.
Stage Harbor Lighthouse with Keeper's Cottage, now a private residence in Chatham MassachusettsStage Harbor Lighthouse

Atlantic Lighthouses in NJ

New Jersey prides itself on its Atlantic lighthouses. We spent our youth and early married life in coastal towns in the Garden State. So had opportunities to visit some of them. Thing was, the state functions for recreation weren't then as well developed as it seems today. We'll be rechecking our childhood haunts for sure!

Navesink Twin Lighthouses on the coastal highlands of New Jersey. It looks very castle-like.Navesink: One of the More Unique Atlantic Lighthouses
  • Navesink Twin Lights5 - Double beacons on a castle-looking edifice atop the Atlantic Highlands, overlooking Sandy Hook Bay. As kids, we both - Karen & Bill (hadn't met yet!) - peered up at these Atlantic lights, imagining pirates' and sea captains' adventures and battles. While we were parked below on our beach blankets at Sea Bright. Neither of our parents ever brought us up there. Historically there since 1828 to assist ships into New York Harbor. Now a museum, with a tour of one tower.
  • Absecon Lighthouse - First lit in 1857, the tallest lighthouse in NJ. Proud area feature, listed on three historical registries. The original oil shed still stands, but the Keeper's cottage is a replica. Museum on-site, and you get to climb the tower (228 steps).5 There's an overnight program, as well! For info contact miltglenn@abseconlighthouse.org
  • Sandy Hook Lighthouse - Oldest still-working lighthouse in the U.S. Near the end of Sandy Hook Atlantic barrier island, built in 1764. This location goes the opposite of most lighthouse's problems. When built, it was 500 feet from land's tip. Now it's about 1-1/2 miles away, as more sand has accumulated at this peninsula's end. That's called littoral drift (when sediments deposit on-shore from normal movement trajectories of waves & currents). It was an aid for entering New York Harbor. Now it's within the NPS Gateway National Recreation Area.5 Daily tours every half hour: 1pm to 4:30pm.
  • Barnegat Lighthouse - Nicknamed "Barney," at the northern end of barrier Long Beach Island. Another light was nearby in the 1830s. After the decade's end, it was threatened by bay/ocean water. Its light was considered substandard anyway. In 1857 a new lighthouse was being built, while that was collapsing into the sea. That site submerged today. The replacement shone on Jan. 1, 1859, jetties protect it.5 Now within Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. You can climb 217 steps to the top, Memorial Day thru Labor Day. Or even virtually with the live camera display in the Interpretive Center.
Narrier island with trees and Barnegat Lighthouse.Barnegat Lighthouse on Long Beach Island - 2007. Photo Credit: Matthew Dodd
  • Cape May Lighthouse - At the state's Southern tip, lower part of Cape May peninsula in Cape May Point State Park. Still operating, automated in 1946. It's the 3rd lighthouse on this Cape. First two lost to erosion, sites now underwater! The first built in 1823, second erected in 1847. The one you see today constructed in 1859. The current design is hurricane wind resistant.5 This is just one we tried for - back when, but was a no go!
  • East Point Lighthouse - Historically called Maurice River Light. On the Delaware Bay in Heislerville at the outlet of that river. Built in 1849, only Sandy Hook's light is older in NJ. Nearly burnt down in 1971. Outer restoration completion in 1999. After being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 19955 helped begin an ongoing rehab. A museum is on-site. Erosion is a continuing fight.
Vintage photo of Hereford lighthouse, at the inlet.Vintage Photo of Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
  • Hereford Inlet Lighthouse - In N. Wildwood, at the top end of Five-Mile Beach. Valuable to local whalers in the 1800s. Finished in March 1874. It endured threats from beach erosion, storms and a fire. Closed in 1913 when severely storm-damaged, then moved away from surf and reopened the next year.5 Today it's on two historical registries, is along the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, operates via the City, and has a museum and park-like Atlantic lighthouse setting.  
Great Beds Lighthouse in Raritan Bay off of South Amboy. Called a spark plug light because of its appearance, it looks like a large spark plug.Great Beds Light, a Cassion type lighthouse
  • Great Beds Light - A little spark-plug lighthouse, out in Raritan Bay, off the coast of the small city of South Amboy. Constructed in 1880, made of cast iron. It's charmed this town, has been adopted as their symbol of sorts. In 2008 was listed on the NJ Register of Historic Places and National Register of Historic Places.5
  • Sea Girt Lighthouse - By the beach, near Wreck Pond, a coastal tidal, yet fresh-water pond. The lighthouse had the first (1921) on-shore radio beacon direction finder for ships' triangulation usage. After its light was decommissioned, the house was a Coast Guard dormitory.6 In 1981 a non-profit took it. Now available for touring and other activities.
Captain Al Modjeski of the American Littoral Society is in the water of Wreck Pond in New Jersey, monitoring the water quality of this tidal fresh-water system.Captain Al Modjeski Monitoring Water Quality at Wreck Pond

North Carolina Lighthouses

  • Currituck Beach Lighthouse - Another of our own Atlantic lighthouse history stories. Helping get our own passion started. Our cousin brought us here, he was involved with its restoration story. Its tower is in its natural brick, so the appearance right away is singular. The plaque over its doorway marks its 1873 beginnings. It has the largest sized Fresnel lens, automated now, in service dusk to dawn.8
  • Bald Head Island Lighthouse - Nicknamed "Old Baldy" it's the oldest North Carolina tower still around. Valuable guiding boats into Cape Fear River. Finished in 1817, replacing the original from 1794 which was eroding into the river. It soon proved inadequate in placement and lumen power. There was lots more to its story until it finally took its place in history.6 Climb to the top, visit the museum. Now non-profit managed. To get there you must Ferry from Southport NC. Ferry Tickets - Adults: $23, Children 3 to 12: $12, Age Under 3: Free.9 Plan to Spend the Day!
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the Hatteras Island with a grassy area adjacent and trees behind. A brick base and a striped tower.Cape Hatteras Light - An Iconic Atlantic Lighthouse
  • Bodie Lighthouse - Not far south of Nags Head, easy to visit. The Keeper's Home is a duplex, and the complex is situated on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The true pronunciation is just like the "human body."9 Locals know that!
  • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - Well known, distinctive Atlantic lighthouse. Go to Buxton on Hatteras Island. It's the prime overseer for the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" collision area of two major currents. Completed in 1870, replacing an original which was inadequate, and then damaged in the Civil War. Gradually the surf line approached this Atlantic lighthouse. For a while abandoned, despite efforts to prevent watery overrun. In 1999, more endangered, so it was moved. A major project, called: The Move of the Millennium! Today you can visit its new location.9
  • Oak Island Lighthouse - Near the Cape Fear River emergence, in Caswell Beach this beacon replaced the steel skeleton Cape Fear Light in 1958.6 The inside design is different, rather than the spiral stairway, it has a "ship's ladder" style with eight landings as you go. Quite steep. So be ready if you plan to tour.
  • Cape Lookout Lighthouse - Not too many lighthouses shine their light in the daytime. This Atlantic lighthouse does! Another unique feature here is the diamond pattern, which has a directional indication. Not the first here. Trouble with that first was, from 1812, it was too short! So in late 1859 this was completed, 67 feet higher.6 On Cape Hatteras National Seashore, reached by private ferry.9
  • Ocracoke Lighthouse - Finished in 1823, it's all white. The original Keeper's Home is still there, but remodeled twice to accommodate an assistant keeper. The tower's totally automated,6 so sturdy it's even been a shelter during hurricanes. At the southern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. You can visit this Atlantic Light Station, but not climb the tower.9

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