National Lighthouse Day is August 7 and to celebrate, we’re highlighting some architectural drawings and maps relating to lighthouses from our holdings of the Records of the United States Coast Guard, Record Group 26 (NAID 592785).
Among these drawings are plans for the lighthouse at Alcatraz Island (NAID 731005). Yes, there’s more than a prison there! The lighthouse at Alcatraz Island was the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast, with the original building being completed in 1854. The drawings below depict the second tower and dwelling as they were built in 1909, after the original building was torn down after suffering damage during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
One of the more famous lighthouses in the United States, and also the tallest, is the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, NC (NAID 731217). Its cylindrical shape with the lantern at the top and spiral stripes painted down its sides provide an iconic look at the architecture of many coastal beacons. The stripes act as a daymark for ships to identify the lighthouse along the coast. Keepers, and visitors today, had to take 257 steps to reach the balcony, which is similar to a 12-story building.
Drawings depicting the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse, MI (NAID 956083) show the design and plan for the stonework. The stones were laid in multiple courses following specific patterns, with the plans including details for placement of bolts and basic directions for incisions needed to cut the stones.
The lighthouse plans within our holdings also give us a closer look into the lives of lighthouse keepers. In the days before automation, the keepers most well known duty was to manage the lantern. They not only had to light the lamps, but they needed to tend to basic cleaning and maintenance using the proper tools.
Keepers weren’t just there to tend to the lens only. They also had to maintain other buildings around the light station and keep things running smoothly. At the light station at Destruction Island, WA (NAID 1073757), a tramway system would allow them to load supplies from ships offshore to move around to other buildings on the island, such as the fog signal.
Keepers also lived at the light station with their families. The plans for the station at Marrowstone Point, WA (NAID 1073760) include elevation plans for the fog signal, floor plans for the dwelling and a map showing the proximity of the buildings to one another. They also include plans for the privy, which was a bit of a walk from the dwelling, reminding us today of an everyday modern amenity that we take for granted.
There are many interesting drawings of lighthouses and of all of the various details that surround them. Do you have a favorite lighthouse? Have you visited any of these treasures and been able to make a climb to the top?