My family & friends frequently tease me about my love (er…obsession perhaps…) of Lighthouses. Yet, fellow admirers of Lighthouses will agree with me that these majestic structures provide an inspiration and tales of their colorful histories abound. Also, it never ceases to amaze me that no two lighthouses are alike and they are as varied as the shorelines they beautify.
I believe Lighthouses have evolved from their historical roots as a guide to ships in turbulent waters and rugged, dangerous coastlines to landmarks of great historical significance and beauty. Not only do they serve to guide ships, but they have an air of spirituality about them to guide troubled souls in a world of darkness. Their beacons shine in such a way that they provide an inspiration to all who view them. How can one look upon a majestic lighthouse perched on a cliff or at the far end of a pier and not help but smile at its beauty.
Living in the Midwest, I feel honored that we have the greatest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the world. By virtue of the five great lakes, that provide hundreds of miles of coastline that need lighthouses to provide safe navigation. In recent years, many of the lighthouses have not continued to operate and function as navigating tools, with the advent of more technologically advanced methods replacing them. Yet, since many are steeped in history and tradition, there are efforts to restore and maintain them. For more information, an interesting site on preservation is: www.lighthousepreservation.org
It is interesting when visiting a community that is fortunate enough to have a lighthouse; the local residents utilize it as a focal point and a tool for orienting. “Oh, that cottage is located just south-east of the lighthouse”, one might say; makes things easier to pinpoint. Also, many times a specific lighthouse is symbolic to the area in which it is found and has unique characteristics to only that lighthouse. That is the exciting thing about lighthouses: each one is different and each one has their own special features and attributes. Not all are the tall beacons rising high on a rocky cliff. Many are actually relatively small structures, but are situated on a jutting landscape so as to shine their light on the water. It never ceases to amaze me the different sizes, shapes and features inherent with all the different lighthouses.
When viewing, and visiting a lighthouse I try to appreciate the craftsmanship of the actual building and of course the view from the top, if one is able to gain access to the tower. In addition to the physical beauty you are surrounded by, it is wondrous to imagine the history, local lore and stories therein.
When close to a lighthouse I can’t help but feel a sense of serenity and guidance, a connection between the creations of man and the turbulence of waters of Mother Nature; both the sea and the massive stretches of fresh water lakes. Here is one of my favorite iconic lighthouses in the Midwest: Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior (Minnesota). It was built in 1910 and sits atop 127 foot cliff Now that is quite a cliff!
Shown here is the St. Joseph Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. (St. Joseph, Michigan) Since it is situated across from Chicago on Lake Michigan, lighthouses were built at the St. Joseph location dating back to 1832, but the current structures were built in 1907. This is a lighthouse with such character and seems rather diminutive with it’s small “partner”building. The lighthouse itself is not that tall, but sits atop the pier as it juts out approximately 1,000 feet out onto the turbulent waters of Lake Michigan. I have walked all the way to the end of the pier to take in the view from the lighthouse. Catwalks above the pier were built so that the lighthouse keepers could access the lights when the seas were rough and waved crashed over the pier. Walking on the pier on a sunny, summer day, I envisioned what it would have been like on the catwalks with snow and ice below you.
This particular lighthouse is frequently photographed when artfully depicted covered with snow and ice; as shown in the photo here.
I was so charmed by this lovely little lighthouse, an artist friend of mine painted a beautiful oil for me that I have in my home. (Thanks Rebecca!)
So the next time you have an opportunity to visit a lighthouse, take the time to enjoy it’s unique design and think of its rich history. Ask a local about the history and the folktales of the lighthouse…I’ll bet there is a story to hear.
Put your traveling shoes on. JES