Like a Beacon in the Night . . .


Although the first modern lighthouse lens was invented in 1822, by the Frenchman, Augustin Fesnel, it was not installed in a lighthouse until 1841.  Until then early lighthouses used wicks as a source of light, and albeit it did deter some disasters, the light beam was only visible for a few miles.  The Egyptians were, however, the first to build a lighthouse, and it is said they were also responsible for the tallest lighthouse ever built.

Lighthouses have been a major fascination for many, and a source of tourism.  As we explore lighthouses we also take a walk through the waves of history.

Absecon Lighthouse, courtesy of the

If you live in or near Atlantic City, New Jersey, you probably have heard of the famous Absecon Lighthouse, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007, although it had been placed on the Register of Historic Places back in 1970.  In 1854, an appropriation of $35,000 from Congress was given to build a lighthouse on Absecon Island, and in 1857 the first lighting took place using a mineral oil (kerosene) lamp and with the aid of a Fesnel lens, made in Paris, it reflected light for 19.5 nautical miles out to sea.  The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1933, its light extinguished, and except for a few celebrations, like New Jersey’s Centennial and its Tercentenary in 1963, the lighthouse might easily have met its demise.  Today, it stands as a testament and beacon of preservation of New Jersey’s maritime history, and is also a popular tourist attraction.

The Absecon Lighthouse is not the oldest in the United States though.  This honor goes to the Boston Light,a lighthouse located on Little Brewster Island, dating back to 1716, and is the only lighthouse in the United States to still be actively staffed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

While many of us may not have known the name of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, located in Scotland, we may have seen it as depicted in a black and white illustration that shows an angry sea whipping at the rocky foundation of this famous lighthouse.

Artist rendering of Bell Rock Lighthouse, artist unknown

Many legends surround the devious reef Inchcape dubbed Bell Rock after a venerable Abbot placed a bell as a warning to mariners about its perilous and rocky claws, but the villainous pirate, Ralph the Rover, played a cruel joke by removing the bell.  The old saying, what goes round, comes round was certainly true here, for when ‘Sir’ Ralph came upon Inchcape in his own sailing vessel he had forgotten his mischievous, but deadly prank, and perished in the crushing waves.

Robert Southly (August 1774-March 1843), an English poet of the romantic school, and a so-called Lake Poet and Poet Laureate, wrote a hauntingly rhythmic poem about Inchcape and the prankster pirate: “No stir in the air, no stir in the sea” . . . Click here for the full poem. and to read the full history of this enchanting lighthouse tale, visit here:

Cape Hatteras Light House

Some lighthouse tidbits:  Once a prison, now a tourist destination, Alcatraz Island is also home to a lighthouse; The barber pole striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, located in Buxton, North Carolina, is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America; The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse is described as A Light in the Wilderness in James D. Snyder’s book about this lighthouse being built when Florida was a “wild, lawless frontier, ruled by bears snakes and alligators” . . . ; The first Point Bolivar Lighthouse, located in Point Bolivar, Texas, was built in the mid 1850’s but was “pulled down during the Civil War so that Union warships could not use it as a navigational aid.”

So many lighthouses, so little time and limited space, so for those lighthouse aficionados out there, perhaps a good night’s sleep in a lighthouse is just the tourism ticket you’ve been searching for.  John Grant has made it easy for you in his book, “Staying at a Lighthouse,” where he has listed more than two dozen “leaving the light on” places to visit and stay.  You can find the book at

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