Digest>Archives> October 1997

National Lighthouse Museum

Send us your Vote!

By Timothy Harrison


It seems that a lot of people are jumping on the band wagon for a "National Lighthouse Museum". And why not? If their area is picked, it would not only a feather in their hat, but a boom to the tourist industry of the area for the winner.

For example, Dick Moehl, President of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Society, is pushing for the site to be in Mackinaw City. Naturally, it would be a good spot. It's a great tourist location, with lots of lighthouses, the world famous bridge, historic forts, lakes, quaint shops, wonderful motels, nice restaurants, friendly people and, of course, Mackinac Island.

But other areas of the country are also pushing hard for the museum to be in their neck of the woods. Some of these areas are just as nice, and as appropriate as Mackinaw City, while others are not. According to Ralph Eschelmen of the Feasibility Study Steering Committee for a National Lighthouse Museum, the interest is still growing. He says that requests for "expression of interest" and guidelines for the site is increasing. Letters and phone calls have generated interest for possible sites in other areas such as New Bedford, Boston, and Newburyport all in Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; Two Harbors, Minnesota; New London, Connecticut; Staten Island, NY; Bristol, RI; and Washington DC.

What about Washington, DC? Some say our nation's capital is where a national lighthouse museum belongs.

Just why do we need a national museum anyway? What purpose would it serve? Let's face it, if a national museum was in Washington, DC., how many of the average public would be able to afford to go to DC to see the museum? And why Washington, DC? Doesn't DC have enough museums already? Or what if the site picked is Staten Island, NY? The site under consideration there is the old Lighthouse Depot, certainly an appropriate spot. However, will people from the West Coast or the South really want or be able to afford the long trip, just to go to a national lighthouse museum?

Currently, there are a number of museums around the country that have lighthouse artifacts. Most notable is the Shore Village Museum in Rockland, Maine, (often referred to as America's Lighthouse Museum) The Shore Village Museum, which most likely has the largest collection of lighthouse artifacts in the nation, is housed in a converted house. Should we have some type of fund raising effort to get a larger location for this bursting-at-the-sides wonderful museum? Ken Black, the founder of the museum, has spent years collecting and cataloging these artifacts. Shouldn't we donate some money and fund-raising efforts to show him our appreciation? He started doing this long before it became fashionable. On the other hand, Rockland, Maine is a long way away from the rest of the country, maybe too far for most people to travel.

Most lighthouses that are open to the public, now have small museums or exhibits of their own. Examples of these would include Whitefish Point, MI; Portland Head Light, ME; Southeast Light, RI; Pemaquid Point, ME; Ponce De Leon Inlet, FL and many others. Is the idea of having a national lighthouse museum like the old idea of only saving one lighthouse of each major architectural style? Or the other school of thought - only save lighthouses that are tourist attractions and let the rest of them fall down and put up a plaque or marker where the lighthouse once stood?

Just how supportive will all these groups be that now support a National Lighthouse Museum when their site is not picked? And where is the money going to come from?

Will artifacts that are now on display at individual lighthouses around the country (of which most belong to the U.S. Government) be taken from these museums and shipped to a National Museum? Or will the museum be a collection of new artifacts just found, or artifacts donated by the many private collectors. For example, F. Ross Holland, one of America's foremost lighthouse historians and author, has already agreed to donate his extensive collection of lighthouse books and research papers and even the desk he worked from.

Ralph Eschelmen says that, "there is no one place where the public can go to learn a holistic history of lighthouse development, learn about the different types of lighthouses, how and why they were built, who operated them, their success and failures. A National Lighthouse Museum would provide such an opportunity."

On the other hand, could all the time and effort being put into a national lighthouse museum be used to help individual lighthouses around the country, that already have museums or small exhibits, to gather more artifacts about their local lighthouse? Or should this national group of distinguished lighthouse authorities concentrate on actually saving lighthouses?

Another school of thought, in addition to helping individual lighthouses, is for regional lighthouse rotating exhibits. How about one about the West Coast, one about the Great Lakes, one about New England, one about the mid-Atlantic, and one about the South? You could have rotating exhibits that would be moved from museum to museum, allowing all the people to see them. These exhibits could tell the story of an individual area, allowing people on the West Coast to learn about lighthouse keeping and life in New England and vice-versa.

The New England Lighthouse Foundation just completed a major restoration of Race Point Lighthouse in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This abandoned station would still be abandoned if they hadn't come forward. The local community refused to get involved in saving it; the government had no intentions of saving it. It would have simply kept decaying until the buildings were no more, but now it is saved. The same is true with St. Helena Lighthouse in Michigan. It would have never been saved if the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association had not come forward. The light was too remote for any community to get involved. What about Crisp Point Light in Michigan, or all the other lighthouses on the Doomsday List? Which national or regional group will come forward to save them? Or will a lot of their time and money be devoted to a National Lighthouse Museum?

Has the time come for a National Lighthouse Museum or not?

Let's hear from you, our readers. You are the ones who really count. We will stand by and support what the majority of our readers want.

This story appeared in the October 1997 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.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History