As we celebrate, with this issue, our twentieth year of publishing Lighthouse Digest, we tried to come up with the top twenty stories for the past twenty years. Naturally that list soon exceeded far more than twenty stories, so we slowly whittled that list down to what we thought were the twenty most historically significant lighthouse events in the past twenty years.
It is highly likely that some people may disagree with this list, and there probably are other significant lighthouse events that could have been in the top twenty, but this is what we came up with, reaching our final decision on the stories that had the widest public impact. All of these events were covered and written about in one way or another in the pages of Lighthouse Digest. In some circumstances the subject was an ongoing story that happened over a period of time until it reached its conclusion. The events are not listed in their order of importance, except for the first two, which we believe were the top two most important lighthouse happenings in the past twenty years.
1. Maine Lights Program -- We believe the single most important lighthouse occurrence in the past twenty years was the conclusion in 1998 of the Maine Lights Program, when the ownership of twenty-eight of Maine’s lighthouses were transferred from Coast Guard ownership to nonprofits and other government agencies. The idea, which was the brainchild of Peter Ralston of the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine, can actually be dated back to the 1998 fire that heavily damaged the keeper’s house at Maine’s Heron Neck Lighthouse. When the Coast Guard rejected a plan by a private individual to restore the keeper’s house with his own money and announced that the house would be demolished, Ralston, with the help of others, mounted a massive campaign to save the structure, which they accomplished. Realizing that many of Maine’s lighthouses were in danger, in 1994 Ralston came up with the idea for the Maine Lights Program to save as many of the state’s historic lighthouses as possible. It was no easy task, but over the next four years Ralston worked relentlessly to see the fruits of his dedication pay off. Based largely, if not entirely, on the success of the Maine Lights Program, in 2000 the Congress of the United States passed the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.
2. National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 -- Congress passes the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 (NHLPA) which was, in essence, an amendment to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 1997 and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Many people credit the strong testimony to Congress in 1998 by Richard “Dick” Moehl, president of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, as one of the turning points that helped pass the legislation. The new law gave equal footing to nonprofits with competing applications by various government agencies when applying for ownership of a lighthouse. The first three lighthouses transferred under the NHLPA were Rondout Creek Lighthouse in New York on June 19, 2002; the St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida on July 20, 2002; and the Little River Lighthouse in Maine on July 27, 2002.
3. Southeast Lighthouse Moved -- After years of fundraising and planning by many dedicated volunteers, the large brick Victorian style Block Island Southeast Light Station on Block Island was saved from destruction when, in August of 1993, the structure was moved 300 feet away from the eroding cliff. Some claim it was the heaviest structure ever moved by man.
4. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Moved -- After years of hearings and controversy, in 1999, North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was successfully moved 2900 feet back from the ocean. The $12 million project saved America’s tallest lighthouse from collapsing into the sea. It was the tallest structure ever moved by man.
5. Currituck Ownership Battle Ends -- After a long and bitter battle over who would own North Carolina’s Currituck Lighthouse, the issue was resolved in 2003 when it was officially declared that the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) was the legal owner of the lighthouse that is located in Corolla. A United States congressman had tried to circumvent the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act by having Congress award ownership of the lighthouse to the local county government after the nonprofit group had spent $1.2 million restoring the light station. Lighthouse Digest and its readers took an active role with editorials and letter writing campaigns in support of the OBC. However, even after ownership was decided, it took another three years to resolve the County Land Use Regulations.
6. First Order Lens at Seguin Saved -- In 1999 the Coast Guard announced that it was going to remove the gigantic First Order Fresnel lens from Maine’s Seguin Island Lighthouse. The Coast Guard tried to remove the lens once before in the 1980s, but a standoff between local lobstermen and the Coast Guard stopped it. This time a massive letter writing campaign was mounted, petitions were gathered, and public outcry was loud and furious. Begrudgingly and reluctantly, the Coast Guard changed its mind and the lens was allowed to stay.
7. The Beacon of Freedom -- A few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Maine’s Little River Lighthouse, after being dark for 26 years, was relit as a “Beacon of Freedom to the World” in a two part ceremony that was held on boats in the ocean just off the island lighthouse, and on the mainland in Cutler, Maine. The highly patriotic ceremony was covered by the local and national media and filmed by the History Channel as well as Jeff Dobbs Productions for a later documentary on Maine’s lighthouse history. The event was the largest gathering in the history of the local community and was attended by over 1000 people. The relighting of the lighthouse as a “Beacon of Freedom to the World” was the idea of the editor of Lighthouse Digest, Tim Harrison, who at that time was also president of the American Lighthouse Foundation.
8. First Lighthouse on Money -- In 2003, Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol, Maine became the first traditional lighthouse ever to appear on American money as part of the U.S. Mint’s 50 States Quarters Program. Among the speakers at the event, including the director of the U.S. Mint, and the governor of Maine, was Tim Harrison, editor of Lighthouse Digest who at that time was also president of the American Lighthouse Foundation. The 2nd lighthouse ever to appear on American money will be on a new quarter to be released this June and will feature Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park in Maine.
9. Lighthouse Festival Launched -- In October of 1996 the First Annual Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival was held in Alpena, Michigan. One subsequent year saw the attendance reach over 10,000 people. Each year the festival helps draw public attention to lighthouses on the Great Lakes and around the country. The organizers, largely under the leadership of Marv and Joy Theut, also opened their own lighthouse museum in a permanent location. Other lighthouse groups have since emulated the success of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival, which led the way.
10. Lighthouse Group Founded -- In 1994, with a little over $300 in funds, the American Lighthouse Foundation was founded under the name New England Lighthouse Foundation. Its first officers, who were also the cofounders, were Timothy Harrison, Joseph Lebherz, Steve Johnson, Kathleen Finnegan, and Douglas Bingham. The group later officially changed its name to the American Lighthouse Foundation. Harrison served as its president for the first 13 years. Under Harrison’s leadership, the organization grew by taking over management, through government license, of a large number of lighthouses, as well as the ownership of Little River Lighthouse, and at the time, the group had more lighthouses than any other nonprofit group in the country. Harrison also created a number of chapters for the organization to help the nonprofit manage its lighthouses. The organization is still going strong today.
11. Maine Lighthouse Museum -- In June 2005, Phase I of the new Maine Lighthouse Museum opened on the waterfront in Rockland, Maine. Originally founded by CWO Kenneth Black (USCG Ret.) as the Shore Village Museum in Rockland, it is the largest collection of lighthouse lenses and lighthouse artifacts in one location in the United States. The collection was amassed through nearly 40 years of dedication by Black, who worked tirelessly to locate, secure, and then save the artifacts. The following year, Phase II was completed with the dedication of the Kenneth Black Exhibition Hall at the museum. Both events were attended by over 1000 people. During the ceremonies of the opening of Phase II of the Maine Lighthouse Museum, the Maine State Senate officially declared that Ken Black was “Mr. Lighthouse, and Black was bestowed with a number of awards and acclamations, but his favorite was the personal congratulations received from President George W. Bush that was read and presented to him by his friend and colleague, Tim Harrison. When Ken Black passed away in January 2007, his funeral was held at the Maine Lighthouse Museum.
12. Museum of Lighthouse History -- The Museum of Lighthouse History in Wells, Maine was officially dedicated on National Lighthouse Day, August 7, 2005. The collection, housed in a building next door to Lighthouse Depot, had, for the most part, been largely created by Tim Harrison, editor of Lighthouse Digest and then president of the American Lighthouse Foundation. Many of the items on display were from Harrison’s personal collection. At the dedication ceremony, Rear Admiral David P. Pekoske (USCG) awarded Harrison the Homeland Security United States Coast Guard’s Meritorious Public Service Award and Medal. In 2007 the American Lighthouse Foundation and the Maine Lighthouse Museum announced that the Museum of Lighthouse History would be closed and its collection would be merged into the Maine Lighthouse Museum. Later that spring and without any fanfare, the collection was moved to Rockland where it was merged into the Maine Lighthouse Museum. A celebration was never held to promote the merger. Later, with Harrison no longer the president of the group, the American Lighthouse Foundation broke its management agreement with the Maine Lighthouse Museum and vacated its office at the museum and opened an interpretive center in a Rockland storefront location.
13. Clark’s Point Lighthouse Relighting -- After being on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouse for years, the restored Clark’s Point Lighthouse in New Bedford, Massachusetts was relit in a gala ceremony on June 15, 2001 that was witnessed by an estimated 3,500 people. The restoration and relighting was directly related to the city’s mayor, Frederick M. Kalisz. The event included a 21 gun cannon salute, a performance by the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, presentations by the Coast Guard and other public and private individuals. But it was Tim Harrison, editor and publisher of Lighthouse Digest and then president of the American Lighthouse Foundation who fired up the crowd prior to relighting, which was followed by a massive fireworks display. It was the largest gathering in history to witness the relighting of a lighthouse that had been dark and abandoned for years.
14. National Museum Site Selected -- In the summer of 1998, the historic site of the former United States Lighthouse Service Lighthouse Depot on Staten Island, New York was selected by the National Lighthouse Center and Museum Steering Committee as the site for a new National Lighthouse Museum. The search began in 1997 and the committee visited a number of cities around the country that were vying for the museum. In July of 1998, many of the finalists were on hand for a meeting in Washington, DC to give one final pitch for their location. Most believed that the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association presented the best proposal for Mackinaw City, Michigan as the site while others gave a sentimental choice for Rockland, Maine where Ken Black, “Mr. Lighthouse,” already had the largest collection of lighthouses lenses on display at what was then the Shore Village Museum. However, the Staten Island, NY location was selected, primarily because of the historic lighthouse buildings at the site. Many believed that the only way the historic buildings would be saved would be for the site to be chosen for the National Lighthouse Museum. Although some restoration work was accomplished at the site, funding for the project disappeared and the museum failed to materialize. Recently, a new management group was started in an effort to again get the project underway and they are making some headway. To learn more, you can go to their web site at ww.lighthousemuseum.org or to their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NationalLighthouseMuseum.
15. Legendary Lighthouses -- Partially underwritten by a grant from Lighthouse Depot, the six hour mini-series Legendary Lighthouses made its nationwide debut on PBS Television in October, 1998. It was one of the most watched mini-series on PBS-TV. It was followed in 2001 by Legendary Lighthouses II. Both were followed by Legendary Lighthouses books and all were released on VHS. Although all of the one-hour episodes were highly acclaimed by the public and reviewers, most lighthouse aficionados felt that more history should have been included. However, the series drew widespread public attention to lighthouses and continues to so when they are occasionally shown again on television.
16: Kids Save White Island Lighthouse -- Under the leadership of teacher Sue Reynolds, 7th grade students at North Hampton School in New Hampshire formed a group called “The Lighthouse Kids,” with the goal of saving New Hampshire’s White Island Lighthouse, which was on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses. The group soon became the only children’s chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation. The first year they raised $400. However, by the time they saved the lighthouse from certain collapse in 2005, they had raised $120,000 in cash and $250,000 in grants. Since then “The Lighthouse Kids” have helped raise money for other restoration projects at the light station which is also known as Isles of Shoals Lighthouse. Hopefully as these kids grow into adults and eventually settle in different parts of the nation, they will take with them their preservation efforts into other projects in the communities where they live.
17. Hatteras Descendants Homecoming -- To coincide with the relighting of North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the continental United States, the National Park Service and the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society hosted the Hatteras Descendants Homecoming event in May of 2001. After months of letter writing and phone calls, under the leadership of Bruce and Cheryl Roberts of the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, hundreds upon hundreds of the descendants of the lighthouse keepers of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse were located and over 1,200 descendants accepted the offer to attend the event. Under a Big Top Tent it is the largest gathering of descendants of lighthouse keepers of a single lighthouse in world history.
18. Lighthouse Postage Stamps -- Although the United States Post Office issued a series of five different postage stamps featuring Historic American lighthouses in 1990, it was the release of the five Great Lakes Lighthouse Postage Stamps in June of 1995 that created a gigantic interest that catapulted lighthouses into the limelight. The Great Lakes Lighthouse Postage Stamp “First Day of Issue” ceremonies held in Cheboygan, Michigan drew thousands of people for the festivities, which officially started with the unveiling of the stamps on board the Coast Guard Cutter Sundew. Other lighthouse stamp releases followed in later years, such as the Southeast Lighthouse Postage Stamps, the Gulf Coast Lighthouse Postage Stamps and the Pacific Lighthouse Postage Stamps; however it was the Great Lakes Lighthouse Stamp Ceremony and First Day of Issue festivities that drew the widest public interest as the forerunner in preserving lighthouses and their history.
19. Rebuilding Cape St. George -- In one of the most amazing volunteer efforts in lighthouse history, approximately 1.5 tons of 20,000 loose bricks from the Cape St. George Lighthouse in Florida that had been toppled by Hurricane Dennis on Oct. 2, 2005 were transported 14 miles, mostly over water, to the mainland. As well as working tirelessly to raise money to rebuild the lighthouse, the volunteers cleaned and restored the 20,000 bricks so that they could be used to rebuild the lighthouse on the mainland. The fruits of their work were seen when the newly rebuilt Cape St. George Lighthouse was opened for the public to climb on December 1, 2008. The lighthouse was relit in a ceremony on October 31, 2009.
20. International Lighthouse Conference -- After months of planning, the International Lighthouse Conference: Kids on the Beam, Education Through Preservation took place on Sept 17-21, 2002 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The event was co-sponsored by the American Lighthouse Foundation and the City of New Bedford and funded large part by Lighthouse Digest. Under the leadership of Sally Snowman, keeper of Boston Lighthouse, attendees from all over the United States and Canada went home with educational ideas and a handbook that could be used in teaching lighthouse preservation and history to school age children. The program name, “Kids on the Beam,” came from Elinor Dewire, who also allowed her activities and story book to be used as part of the materials. The event involved twenty-two schools with essay writing contests, coloring contests, a play, skits, songs, and the U.S. Coast Guard Band performed to over 900 people. The closing ceremonies were attended by Rear Admiral Vivien Crea, and had the largest contingents of Coast Guard officers in history to ever attend a lighthouse event.
Following are some of the other lighthouse events that could very easily have also been in the top twenty:
• The relighting on June 15, 2001 of the restored Clark’s Point Lighthouse in New Bedford, Massachusetts which was attended by 3,500 people.
• The dedication on August 3, 2002 of the Lightship Sailors Memorial in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
• The ongoing restoration and relighting of the St. George Reef Lighthouse in California.
• The saving and restoration of St. Helena Lighthouse in Michigan.
• The destruction and damage of lighthouses by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
• The discovery of fact that the Mayo’s Beach Lighthouse in Cape Cod, thought to have been destroyed in the 1930s was still standing, have been moved to California to become the Point Montara Lighthouse.
• The rediscovery that the fog bell from the Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse that had been toppled in a storm in 1851 that was being used in a church in Maine.
• The rescue and moving of the remains of Mississippi’s Round Island Lighthouse that had been toppled in 1998 by Hurricane Georges.
• The moving of Cape Cod Highland Lighthouse, Nauset Beach Lighthouse, Sankaty Head Lighthouse and others.
• The restoration of California’s Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
• The 100th birthday party for Connie Small, author of the Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, who was known as “Maine’s First Lady of Light.”
• The 2010 Split Rock Lighthouse Centennial Celebration, which was attended by 5,000 people.
• The demolition of Kauhola Point Lighthouse in Hawaii.
Lighthouse Digest has reported all those events and stories about them can be found in our on-line database at www.LighthouseDigest.com. We thank all of our subscribers who have made this possible.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2012 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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