Digest>Archives> Aug/Sep 2004

Harbour Lights Collectors’ Corner

New Harbour Lights Beacons Recall Old Tales


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From the northern-most reaches of the Midwest to the farthest outpost in the Florida Keys, historic lighthouses have guided mariners to safety and left a legend of lore in their wake. Harbour Lights honors two of these beloved sentinels in its mid-2004 introductions: Raspberry Island Light, Wisconsin and Northwest Passage Light, Florida.

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Extending off the tip of Wisconsin is the magnificent Apostle Islands, National Lakeshore, jutting into beautiful Lake Superior and posing obstacles for ships traversing the Upper Great Lakes. Raspberry Island was chosen in 1859 for a new lighthouse that would come to be known as the Showplace of the Apostle Islands. But the year it was placed in service was also the beginning of the Civil War.

The hard work of maintaining the light was difficult and dangerous for one man, so wives of early keepers were an integral part of service. Fortunately, for one keeper in the late 1880s, his wife instigated a search party when he did not return to the lighthouse. He had shipwrecked on nearby Oak Island and was found after three desperate days. As a result, he hired his son as assistant keeper – just in case of any future emergencies. Automated for many years, Raspberry Island is still an active aid to navigation and our new sculpture captures the sentinel in all its splendor.

In the southeast, an equally beautiful chain of islands that form the Florida Keys is home to several historic lighthouses – many have been virtually destroyed by the ravages of nature. The southernmost island, Key West, has long been famous as a retreat for many celebrities, ranging from a presidential getaway to the home of author Ernest Hemingway, who loved the sea and found inspiration in this lovely outpost. Northwest Passage is a point where the Gulf of Mexico joins Florida Bay and where the first wooden lighthouse was built in 1855, replacing the lightship that had guided mariners. Constructed on five iron piles in shallow water, the beacon had a fifth order light and was manned by a keeper and two assistants. Throughout the Civil War, its light continued to shine. By 1879, the wooden portions were badly deteriorated and the entire tower had to be replaced. At that time, a fourth order lens was installed.

The lighthouse had been unmanned since 1911, when it was converted to acetylene gas, and a fire in 1971 destroyed the wooden portions, leaving only the foundation. Locals now refer to the iron-pile site as the “Hemingway house on the water” based on a legend that the writer either owned or used the old lighthouse for his fishing excursions. With the aid of research, we have portrayed Northwest Passage Light as it stood in its prime.

Two more chapters in lighthouse legacy that deserve a visit and the honor of a lasting memento as a Harbour Lights limited edition. Reserve yours today from Lighthouse Depot!

This story appeared in the Aug/Sep 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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