Digest>Archives> January 1997



U.S. Lighthouse Society says all lighthouses are not unique and should not be on the National Register

-We disagree.

•U.S. Lighthouse Society says Sankaty Light is nothing but a chimney and is not worth saving.

-We disagree.

By Timothy Harrison

It is rare indeed, when this editor takes a stand which is totally different from another lighthouse preservation group. However, after reading "The View From the Lantern Room" by Wayne Wheeler, President of the United States Lighthouse Society, in the fall edition of "The Keepers Log", the official publication of the United States Lighthouse Society, my blood pressure jumped to the boiling point.

First, let me say, that I have the highest regard for Wayne Wheeler, I admire his dedication and the work he has done for preserving lighthouse history. He started the lighthouse movement before it was fashionable. He is truly a walking encyclopedia on lighthouses and knows more about them than most of us. But . . . he is way off base on this one.

Mr. Wheeler's editorial column dealt primarily with the National Register. He said and we quote:

"With the recent ground swell of lighthouse popularity in recent years, and politicians sensing a way to score big with a 'mom and apple pie' subject, many states produced a Thematic Listing and 'swept' every lighthouse in the state onto the National Register of Historic Places, whether they deserved to be listed or not. We do not think this is in the best interest of lighthouses, nor the register. To be considered for a listing on the register, a building should be one of a kind, unique in its architecture, or special to the history of an area. Beyond those considerations, it should also contain historical fabric to make it a worthwhile candidate."

Lighthouse Digest disagrees. We feel that every lighthouse and every lightstaion should be on the National Register of Historic Places. They are all old, they are all unique in architecture, and they all have there own unique history to the area that they served. Each station has an insulated history of the keepers and family members that served and lived at the station that makes it unrivaled to the maritime history of an individual region.

Mr. Wheeler went on to say , "We can't save everything, the planet just doesn't have the room, and resources are limited. A good case in point is the Sankaty Head Light Station on Nantucket Island. . . . In recent years, the keeper's dwelling and other buildings of the station have been removed. The interior iron staircase was replaced by a modern one in the 1950's or 60's; the lantern room was removed and the lens was transferred to a museum on Nantucket Island. Apparently the sight of the decapitated tower raised such a hue and cry on Nantucket that the Coast Guard fashioned a faux lantern and placed it on the tower - and that's what it looks like, a faux lantern. So, we now have a light station whose historic fabric is only the shell of the tower. It is, in fact, a chimney and it is threatened by eroding cliffs. Should the government spend $1 million to relocate this structure? We think not. Nor should it be placed on the National Register."

Sorry, Wayne, you are wrong! To the many people who have only seen Sankaty Light with the faux lantern room, this is "their" lighthouse. I don't know about you, Wayne, but I still think Sankaty looks like a real lighthouse and I think it is worth saving. Just because the Coast Guard made mistakes with historical properties years ago, is certainly no reason for the rest of us to continue making the same mistakes. Here in Maine, light stations such as Mt. Desert and Wood Island were decapitated years ago, and due to public outcry, lantern rooms were again installed. Would you say that these light stations no longer have any historical importance, that suddenly the recorded memories and stories of these stations are no longer important to the maritime history of our country and the uniqueness to the area they served? I think not.

Yes, we can save most, if not all of our remaining lighthouses. Many lighthouses around this great nation of ours have been saved by local historical groups. Due to restoration, many of these stations may not look exactly the same as they were 100 or 200 years ago . . . the windows have been replaced, doors replaced, electrical wiring installed, siding replaced, different lenses installed etc., but they have been restored. Would Mr. Wheeler have told the folks who restored Yaquina Bay Light in Oregon, St. Helena Light in Michigan, Race Point Light in Massachusetts and many others that have or are being restored that they were wasting their time to restore these lighthouses?

Race Point Light is of the same design as Nauset Light, Nubble Light, Edgartown Light, and Nobska Light. Does this mean that because of the similiar design of the towers that only one of them should be placed on the National Register or one of them saved? Does this mean that the history of only one of the stations is important? Does this mean the dedicated group of volunteers working on restoring Race Point Light are wasting their time? We think not!

Mr. Wheeler went on so say, "Placing everything on the National Register weakens it. The National Register should be reserved for extra special structures and places."

To Wayne Wheeler we say this . . . Every lighthouses is an extra special structure and all are worth saving. Wayne, you are the President of the United States Lighthouse Society and you above anyone else should be dedicated to saving every lighthouse, you should be in the forefront.

To save only a few lighthouses is not only ridiculous, it is ludicrous. Each lighthouse station is unique in architecture and history to its area and every effort should be made to save every lighthouse no matter what its age, style or condition. Men, women and, yes, even children have struggled throughout history to keep the lights burning. Let's not foresake their memory and the history of these lights by simply choosing to save some and forget the others. Let's work together to try to save as many of our remaining lighthouses as possible.

Another Response to "The National Register"

By James Hyland Founder and President of The Lighthouse Preservation Society.

I was very disappointed, but not surprised, at Wayne Wheeler's recent criticism of a national effort to put lighthouses on the National Register of Historic Places. Contrary to his opinion, all lighthouses that have been nominated to this prestigious list deserve to be included. They were all nominated by professionals in the preservation field, who know the importance of documenting and preserving these historic structures for posterity.

The Lighthouse Preservation Society spearheaded a major drive a few years ago to place as many lighthouses on the National Register as possible. Up until that time, there were too few of these historic buildings listed. Everyone thought that because they belonged to the federal government, everything was well documented and the lighthouses were being preserved. Wrong on both counts. To help correct the lack of documentation and provide funding for preservation, L.P.S. created and lobbied the Lighthouse Bicentenial Fund through Congress which allocated $3 million to 150 lighthouse projects around the country.

But in order to receive any of this money, we stipulated that the property had to be on the National Register of Historic Places. This created a flurry of activity. In just 4 years the number of lighthouses on the National Register grew by over 50% (from 242 to 366 entries), and the number has continued to grow as preservationists increasingly see the need to protect these endangered buildings.

This story appeared in the January 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.

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