Blake Walsh

20 Historic Lighthouses of the US Coastline

  • Published 2023/11/19

Lighthouses, with their beacons of light, have long guided mariners through treacherous waters, marking coastlines and harbors across the United States.

This journey of discovery explores 20 historic lighthouses, each a beacon of America’s rich maritime history.

Selected for their age, historical events, architectural uniqueness, and cultural significance, these lighthouses offer a glimpse into the past and a beacon for the future.

The Role and Evolution of Lighthouses

Lighthouses have been pivotal in maritime navigation since ancient times, evolving from simple bonfires on hillsides to sophisticated, technologically advanced structures.

In the United States, these structures have not only served as navigational aids but have also become cultural icons, representing resilience, guidance, and hope.

Their evolution from oil lamps to electric lights and now to automated systems reflects the technological advancements in maritime safety.

Boston Light, Massachusetts

Boston Light, Massachusetts

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As America’s first lighthouse, built in 1716 and reconstructed in 1783, the Boston Light on Little Brewster Island is a symbol of the nation’s rich maritime history.

Montauk Point Lighthouse, New York

Montauk Point Lighthouse, New York

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This lighthouse, commissioned by President George Washington in 1796, has played a crucial role in ensuring safe passage around Long Island’s eastern tip.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina

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Known for its distinctive black and white spiral design, this lighthouse is a vital beacon for ships navigating the perilous Diamond Shoals.

Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, Maryland

Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, Maryland

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An icon of the Chesapeake Bay, its unique screw-pile design represents a significant architectural achievement in lighthouse construction.

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse, Virginia

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse, Virginia

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Standing at the entrance of Hampton Roads since 1802, it has witnessed key Civil War events, making it a landmark of American history.

St. Augustine Lighthouse, Florida

St. Augustine Lighthouse, Florida

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Florida’s oldest lighthouse is renowned for its maritime history, stunning black-and-white spiral design, and ghost stories.

Tybee Island Light, Georgia

Tybee Island Light, Georgia

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Having been rebuilt multiple times, this lighthouse stands as a testament to resilience against the elements.

Portland Head Light, Maine

Portland Head Light in Maine

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Perched on Cape Elizabeth, this lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington, has been operational since 1791.

Its classic New England structure and fascinating history make it a favorite among visitors.

Morris Island Lighthouse, South Carolina

Morris Island Lighthouse, South Carolina

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Now isolated at sea due to erosion, efforts are ongoing to preserve this symbol of maritime history.

Pensacola Lighthouse, Florida

Pensacola Lighthouse, Florida

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Guiding ships through the Gulf of Mexico since 1859, its history is intertwined with Florida’s coastal development.

Cape Decision Lighthouse, Alaska

Playing a vital role during WWII, it remains a remote yet significant beacon, highlighting the importance of lighthouses even in the most isolated regions.

Bolivar Point Lighthouse, Texas

Bolivar Point Lighthouse, Texas

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A survivor of devastating hurricanes, this lighthouse stands as a symbol of the resilience of the Gulf Coast.

New Canal Lighthouse, Louisiana

New Canal Lighthouse, Louisiana

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Overlooking Lake Pontchartrain, this lighthouse has been a key part of New Orleans’ maritime history since 1838.

Point Reyes Lighthouse, California

Point Reyes Lighthouse, California

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Set against a backdrop of rugged cliffs, it has been an essential aid for navigating the foggy and tumultuous waters of the Pacific.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

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Known for its picturesque setting and rumored haunting, it marks a critical point along the Oregon coast.

Mukilteo Lighthouse, Washington

Mukilteo Lighthouse, Washington

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Overlooking the Puget Sound, this lighthouse has been a beacon for ships involved in regional trade and transportation.

Eldred Rock Lighthouse, Alaska

Eldred Rock Lighthouse, Alaska

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Built to withstand harsh weather conditions, it is an enduring symbol of the challenges faced in Alaskan waters.

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, Hawaii

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, Hawaii

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Its unique location on Oahu’s easternmost point and its large Fresnel lens makes it a significant navigational aid in the Pacific.

Kilauea Point Lighthouse, Hawaii

Kilauea Point Lighthouse, Hawaii

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Perched on a dramatic cliff on Kauai, this lighthouse serves both as a navigational aid and a wildlife refuge, symbolizing the intersection of human activity with nature.

Battery Point Lighthouse, California

Battery Point Lighthouse, California

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Situated in Crescent City, this lighthouse, built in 1856, is accessible only at low tide.

It’s one of the first lighthouses on the California coast and has withstood the test of time, including a tsunami in 1964.

The lighthouse is still operational and serves as a museum and a landmark of California’s rich maritime history.

Final Thoughts

This journey through 20 historic lighthouses along the US coastline reveals more than just the architectural and historical significance of these structures.

It uncovers stories of resilience, innovation, and the enduring human connection to the sea.

As we reflect on these beacons of light, we are reminded of their role not only in maritime history but also as symbols of guidance and hope.

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