There are approximately 17,800 lighthouses today located in 250 countries around the world. I am often introduced as an international lighthouse expert because of my knowledge of Irish, Scottish, and English lighthouses. Three countries out of 250; so maybe it is more correct to say that I am a “British Isles Lighthouse Expert.” That still seems weird since I live on a farm and was born and raised in Iowa and Indiana.
Lighthouses began with fires on hills and progressed to structures of which the first known was the Lighthouse of Alexandria, sometimes called the Pharos of Alexandria, built between 280 and 247 BC. With the beginning of extensive maritime commerce in the early18th century, the building of lighthouses began to boom all over the world. The buildings were not all alike. The most common were the round and conical type, such as the Pointe aux Barques in Port Hope, Michigan, which is the location of my upcoming movie “Keepers.” Another favorite is the school house building like Eshaness Lighthouse, my Scottish lighthouse home where the keeper’s accommodations are connected directly to the tower. Finally we have the skeletal type, which is a steel structure holding a light assembly, often times without keeper’s accommodations.
As impressive as today’s number of lighthouses is, it is nothing compared to the actual number built. Numbers declined because of operational expense and replacement by modern electronic navigational systems. Lighthouses have become a very large example of antiques, meaning “belonging to the past,” and are usually over 100 years old.
Like all antiques, their value has gone up and down. Some buildings, after they were no longer operating, sat abandoned, neglected, or were destroyed. Others were grabbed up immediately for vacation homes or to be developed as hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, and even golf resorts. Also, people begin to gather together in non-profits to save the structures. In the United States we have a large percentage of our lighthouses being operated by non-profit organizations as tourist attractions and museums. Each country’s lighthouse authority that actually owned and/or operated the lighthouses established their own way to transfer the antique properties into a modern day function.
There is a lot of debate about what the most appropriate use of antique lighthouses is, and who should own them. My opinion is that whatever works to maintain the lighthouse station and its building and give people access to them is good. I feel strongly that, in countries like the USA where taxpayers’ dollars built them, first consideration should be given to non-profits for the benefit of tax payers. If a non-profit doesn’t take over the lighthouse, then private ownership should be explored. I was a private owner of a lighthouse because The Northern Lighthouse Board, which is the lighthouse authority of Scotland, used a real estate bid system common in their country to find new owners.
What fascinates me is the creativite uses of antique lighthouses around the world. The most common are museums, but they evolved into other uses depending upon local need and ideas.
I loved visiting, Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse in Nova Scotia, which became a Canadian Post office until it was closed in November of 2009 because of mold problems. As far as I can tell it is still currently owned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada but I was told by them that they are in negotiation with a prospective buyer. I wonder what it will become?
Want to go stay in a lighthouse keeper’s cottage on a private island surrounded by ocean and mountains? Stay with the lighthouse owner who is the only remaining inhabitant on Little Island Norway (http://www.littleislandlighthouse.com). That is truly getting away! She shared a picture with us. It is a great place to watch the Northern Lights, which was one of my favorite pastimes at Eshaness.
Maybe you love the hustle and bustle of city life. The Harlingen Lighthouse Hotel is for you. It is situated in the middle of the historic docks and it towers above all the dwellings in Harlingen city, located 70 miles northeast of Amsterdam. The hotel provides a two-person suite that is spread over three floors of the tower. The disadvantage might be that, just like the keepers, you have to carry your bags up the stairs - but the view is fabulous.
A light sits at the top of the North East tower of Kronborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark harbor. Kronborg is known as the Elsinore Castle, which is where Shakespeare’s play Hamlet takes place. It is now a tourist attraction and a theater. A tradition has developed, and there is a production of Hamlet every year at Kronborg Castle.
How about the Little River Lighthouse, the eastern most island lighthouse on the Atlantic Coast of the United States, where the keeper’s house has been lovingly restored to the way it was in the 1930s. But you’ll have to bring your own sheets and food.
Those are just a few of the uses being made of antique lighthouses. Some of the uses above are common, like becoming a hotel. We actually tried to buy Corsewall Lighthouse in Scotland; had our plan worked, it would have been made into a hotel. The winning bidder must have seen the potential because that is exactly what he did. The property came back on the market not long after it was sold, but we had purchased Eshaness. If you are interested in running a lighthouse hotel, I’m told that it is still for sale.
As I investigated unusual lighthouses, I found something that really astonished me – new lighthouse buildings. I have been sharing pictures on our Keepers Facebook page. (www.facebook.com/keepersligthousedrama). Here is a partial list, and if you search on the internet you will find lots of pictures of all of them:
Baishamen Lighthouse is one of newest, built in 2000 on Haidian Island, Haikou in the province of Hainan, China and it is an active aide to navigation. It is the sixth tallest lighthouse in the world.
Faro Punta del Hidalgo’s was built in 1992 in the Canary Islands and is part of a research station for the National Institute for Aerospace Technology (NITA) to study the formation of nanoparticles on the coast and their relationship to monoxide of iodine present in the atmosphere. It is situated approximately 2,600 to the north of Ponta do Seixas, easternmost point of the entire Americas. I love the art deco design.
The US Coast Guard built Ambrose Light, often called Ambrose Tower, as the light station at the convergence of several major shipping lanes in Lower New York Bay. It had an unlucky existence with the first one, built in 1967; was rammed by a tanker. The second one, built in 1996, was hit by another tanker in 2007.
The Tri-Centennial Lighthouse was built in 2003 to commemorate the 300-year anniversary of the founding of Detroit. It is an active lighthouse located on the Detroit River.
Jeddah Light is an active lighthouse located at the end of the outer pier on the north side of the entrance to the Jeddah Saudi Arabia seaport. It was built in 1990. With a height of approximately 371 feet, it claims to be the world’s tallest lighthouse
When I think lighthouses, it usually “the antique type,” but there are some new ones coming on the scene which is surprising and very interesting. I thought the days of lighthouse building was over, but I was wrong.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2014 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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