Are You a Fan of Lighthouses? National Lighthouse Day is Coming Up

Sullivan's Island Light.

The unusual design of the modern Sullivan's Island Light at Fort Sumter makes it more wind resistant. NPS Photo by Carlin Timmons.

August 7, 2009, will mark the 210th anniversary of the "Act for the establishment and support of lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers." In 1989, Congress designated August 7 as National Lighthouse Day, and encouraged "lighthouse grounds, where feasible, to be open to the public" on that day.

There are some excellent examples of those beacons in NPS sites, and although word about National Lighthouse Day is not yet widely distributed, some parks will host special events this weekend. One of those sites is more often associated with a famous battle than with a lighthouse.

Fort Sumter National Monument in South Carolina will hold one of those events at the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, which was the last lighthouse to be built in the United States. It was commissioned on June 15, 1962, as the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, and replaced the original Charleston harbor light (otherwise known as the Morris Island Lighthouse), which was built in 1876.

The Sullivan's Island Lighthouse is unique in several respects. A park publication notes:

• Instead of having the traditional circular shape, it is three-sided, a feature meant to make it more wind resistant. The result is that it can withstand gusts up to 125 mph as demonstrated by its ability to hold up against Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

• It is the only lighthouse in the country to have both an elevator and siding.

• The light was the second brightest in the Western hemisphere with 28 million candlepower but was reduced to 1.5 million to accommodate Sullivan’s Island residents. It can still be seen 27 miles out to sea on clear nights.

To make the event more convenient for the public, it will be held on Saturday, August 8, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You'll find complete details on the park website, along with driving directions to the park's Fort Moultrie unit, which is also located on Sullivan's Island.

Here's a sampling of additional events—and lighthouses—in other NPS areas:

The tallest lighthouse in New York State is located in Fire Island National Seashore. The Fire Island Lighthouse is operated by the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society under a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service. You'll find a schedule of events, including special activities for National Lighthouse Day, on the Society's website.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse in California will host special events this weekend with a slightly different twist.

Each year the Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society (ARLHS) sponsors several activities to increase awareness of our lighthouse heritage. One of these events includes International Lighthouse-Lightship Week, August 1–9, 2009.

To celebrate this international heritage event, the ARLHS, in partnership with Point Reyes National Seashore, will broadcast from the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Visitors to the Point Reyes Lighthouse are invited to view the temporary radio station from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, August 7, & Saturday, August 8, 2009.


You'll find more details about this event on the website for Point Reyes National Seashore.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina is home to three lighthouses; only one, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, is open for climbing by the public. Check here for details, including dates and hours of operation.

If you want to find a lot of lighthouses in a one park, head north. The book Great American Lighthouses by F. Ross Holland, Jr. notes, "Within the boundaries of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is the largest and finest single collection of lighthouses in the country."

The park's six lighthouses are accessible only by boat; a tour operated by a park concessioner will get you to several of the islands, and the park website provides information about public tours. One of these lights has a great name for a place associated with shipwrecks and dark and stormy nights: the Devil's Island Lighthouse.

If you're looking for more lighthouses to visit in the U.S., check the website for the NPS' Marine Heritage Program.. It includes contact information for the majority of the lights; be sure to verify the current status of the site, including public access, before you plan a visit. Many are open to the public only part of the year, and others are no longer functioning light stations, so "we'll leave the light on for you" may not always be the case.