Featured Historic Properties for Maritime Heritage Month 2012:
PT-658 (motor torpedo boat)
Multnomah County, Oregon
Motor Torpedo Boat PT-658 is historically significant for its association with the Pacific War against Japan during WW II and as an example of the Navy's combat doctrine that incorporated the use of inexpensive, fast, versatile, heavily-armed, and lightly-protected boats to support a variety of combat missions, including harassing enemy shipping, rescuing downed pilots, assisting in shore landings, and attacking larger more heavily-armed and -armored ships.
USS Wisconsin, Norfolk, Virginia
Authorized by Congress on July 6, 1939 and launched on December 7, 1943, the Wisconsin is one of four completed Iowa-class fast battleships, among the last built by the United States Navy. The Wisconsin received her first commission on April 16, 1944, when the ship embarked on several months of sea trials before joining combat forces in the Pacific as part of Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey’s Third Fleet. (Previously highlighted in our summer feature)
Boca Grande Lighthouse at Gasparilla Island
Located at the southern tip of Gasparilla Island in Lee County, Florida, the Boca Grande Lighthouse played a significant role in the opening of the Boca Grande Harbor for large phosphate shipments beginning in late 1890. The lighthouse's design reflects its use as a harbor beacon which did not require significant elevation, as opposed to beacons used for alerting outer maritime traffic.
In the 1880s, new phosphate deposits were discovered in west central Florida and advancements in the mining process necessitated a port that could handle the increase in large seagoing vessels for the phosphate transport. Boca Grande Lighthouse's fixed white light with red flashes could be seen twenty-four miles from the harbor. By 1909, larger phosphate docks were built to accommodate larger shipments made possible by the completion of the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad. The light was automated in 1956 and continued to function in its original location until 1960, at which time the light was moved two miles further north due to encroaching erosion. In 1972 the lighthouse and the surrounding thirteen acres were transferred from the federal government to Lee County by the National Park Service’s Federal Lands to Parks Program. The lighthouse was fully restored in 1985-86, and then transferred to the State of Florida in 1988 with its associated acreage to become Gasparilla Island State Park.
Photo by Brian Fox on Flickr
The Portland Headlight sits high on a rocky promontory jutting into Casco Bay near Cape Elizabeth, Maine, which was used as a lookout post during the American Revolution. Soldiers on guard at Portland Head could see approaching British ships and warn the citizens of an imminent attack. President George Washington authorized the construction of this and three other lighthouses, and the main section of the tower remains much as it was when completed in 1790. Constructed by two local masons using stone from the nearby fields and shore, it originally stood seventy-two feet high, with a fifteen foot lantern. In 1813 and again in 1883, the tower's height was reduced by about 20 feet, but it was raised again with brickwork in 1885, then repaired in 1900 using the original stones. The Portland Headlight has stood as a beacon of U.S. commerce for well over two centuries and remains a significant part of Maine's history, as perhaps the best-known and most photographed lighthouse on the northeast coast. The Portland Headlight is now owned and managed by the Town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Boston Light marks a main shipping entrance to Boston Harbor—New England's busiest port—which has been commercially active since the 17th century. Established in 1716, the original stone tower was the first lighthouse built in North America. The British destroyed Boston Light during the Revolutionary War in 1776. Rebuilt in 1783, the present light tower is recognized as the Nation's second oldest. Other separate station buildings still standing on the site are the 1876 fog signal building, 1884 keeper's dwelling, 1884 cistern building, 1889 oil house and 1889 boathouse. The buildings are clustered on the three-acre island and connected by foot paths. Boston Harbor Light Station was designated a National Historic Landmark in January 1964. Preservation groups appealed to Congress and the U.S. Coast Guard, and funding was appropriated to keep U.S. Coast Guard staff at the light station, thereby making it the last manned light in the Nation. It is still an active aid to navigation.
Plum Island Life-Saving and Light Stations
Built in 1896, the Plum Island Life-Saving and Light Stations helped ships navigate the Porte des Morte (Death's Door) passage, a treacherous passage named for the high number of shipwrecks that occurred on its rocky shoals. The Life-Saving and Light Stations assisted Lake Michigan's mariners until well into the twentieth century, supporting the safe and expedient passage of goods and people and playing a significant role in the transportation, commerce, and maritime history of the State of Wisconsin. The Stations are currently owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service which has partnered with the non-profit Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands to preserve and manage the island's historic and cultural resources.
The Split Rock Lighthouse was constructed in the summer of 1909 on a scenic point along the west end of Lake Superior in Lake County, Minnesota. After more than fifty years of petitioning, and a late November gale in 1905 which damaged twenty-nine ships on the lake, the Minnesota legislature finally convinced Congress in 1907 to authorize construction of the much-needed beacon. The cargoes of high-grade iron ore and the iron deposits in the lake basin itself caused compass needles to stray from true north, causing many a ship to run aground in the shallows of the rocky coast. Construction was difficult since there were no roads, making it necessary to bring all the workmen and materials across the lake, and then up a 124-foot cliff.
The Split Rock Lighthouse, which began operating in August 1910, guided large shipping vessels that could not rely on their compasses to navigate the treacherous west end of Lake Superior. The fifty-four foot tower initially used an incandescant kerosene lamp until it switched to an electric bulb in 1940. The tower also utilized a fog signal that could be heard for five miles. The U.S. Coast Guard took over operations in 1939. The lighthouse was added to the National Register in June of 1969, being one of the last two lighthouses left standing in Minnesota. In 1971 the light became part of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The Minnesota Historical Society took over administration of the site in 1976.
Lightship WAL-604, COLUMBIA
Lightship WAL-604, known as the Columbia, was built in 1950 by the U.S. Coast Guard in the characteristic design of 20th-century lightships, with some improved features such as an all-welded hull, transverse bulkheads, modern interior accommodations, and an alternating current electrical system. The ship was in service along the Columbia River Bar off the coast of Oregon. The combination of sturdy exterior and comfortable interior meant that this lightship could stay out in the roughest seas with as many as 19 crew members and officers. As with other lightships, the Columbia has two pole masts each topped by a light visible up to thirteen miles away, a fog signal that could be heard up to five miles away, a radio beacon synchronized with the fog signal, and a simple hand-operated bell. The ship was decommissioned in 1979, having been the last lightship in service on the Pacific Coast. Only twenty-two American lightships remain, and only six of those remaining were built by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Columbia is one of the best-preserved lightships remaining, and following decommission the lightship was opened as a maritime history museum on the Astoria, Oregon waterfront, while retaining the appearance of an active duty vessel.
Great Lakes Aids to Navigation
Port Austin Light
Port Austin Light by MD Provost
in Lake Huron
was built in 1878. It is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard.
It sits in approximately six feet of water and marks a hazardous
rocky reef on the south side of Saginaw Bay near the turning
point for vessels entering or departing the bay. The light house
is 90 feet tall and includes an octagonal wooden crib foundation,
octagonal pier with boat landing, brick masonry superstructure.
It signals a white flash every six seconds and is visible for
eight miles in clear weather.
It is a well-known local landmark. Port Austin Light embodies
the locality’s maritime heritage and continues to serve an as
important guide for waterborne traffic. This light exemplifies
how the Federal government’s long-term program, to provide safe
maritime transport in the US, and how this program’s establishment
of an integrated system of navigational aids throughout the
Great Lakes was manifested in Huron County.
It also represents late nineteenth century lighthouse architecture
and engineering. The light possesses its original location,
setting and design, and embodies qualities of integrity in materials,
workmanship, feeling and association.
Milwaukee Breakwater Light stands in Lake
Michigan’s Milwaukee Harbor. It was built in 1927 by the U.S.
Coast Guard. It embodies twentieth century lighthouse architecture
and engineering. Also the methods to construct the crib foundation
and steel tower are typical of the time period. The Milwaukee
Breakwater Light was Art Deco styling and design expresses its
modernity and verticality.
Milwaukee Breakwater Light, Wisconsin
courtesy of Indy Kethdy via Flickr
The period of significance starts in 1926 when construction
began and ends in 1966 when its operations were automated. The
light is 95 feet tall from base. The lantern is equipped with
a modern automated optic that signals a red flash every 10 seconds
and is visible for 14 miles in clear weather.
The lighthouse’s appearance remains essentially the same as
during its period of historical significance. The property possesses
its original location, setting and design, and embodies qualities
of integrity in materials, workmanship, feeling and association.
Lighting the Florida Keys
Fowey Rocks Light and American Shoal
Light are listed in the National Register of Historic
Places because they represent US Aids to Navigation. They embody
late nineteenth century lighthouse architecture and engineering.
Both exemplify design and construction methods characteristic
of offshore skeletal tower lighthouses during that time period,
and retain integrity in terms of location, setting, design,
materials, workmanship, feeling and association.
Fowey Rocks Light off the coast of Miami, Florida, is a very
prominent and significant light. Its lantern and light were
exhibited at 1876 expo and a scale model of this light was chosen
to represent the Service at the 1893 Columbian Expo. Sited at
a prominent location, is an excellent example of engineering
design. It is named for the HMS Fowey, a British warship that
wrecked nearby in 1748. This location lies near an important
shipping lane for vessels navigating between the Gulf of Mexico
and the Atlantic Ocean.
Fowey Rocks Light, Miami-Dade, Florida
courtesy of Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flickr
Fowey Rocks Light is the most northern of the six famous Florida Reef Lights
, a series of offshore skeletal tower
lighthouses constructed along the Florida Keys during the middle
to late nineteenth century.
Fowey Rocks Light was constructed in1878 to mark a hazardous
reef 6.3 miles south-southeast of Cape Florida on Key Biscayne.
Octagonal, pyramidal skeletal tower lighthouse approximately
130 feet tall that stands in approximately 10 feet of water.
The skeletal tower is supported by pilings and is painted brown.
Fowey Rocks Light is operated as an automated beacon; it is
equipped with a modern optic that signals a flashing white light
visible for 15 miles in clear weather, and a RACON radar beacon.
The optic also displays two red sectors that mark areas of hazardous
water to the north and south.
American Shoal was constructed in the 1870s to mark hazards
along shipping routes in the Florida Keys. It was the last built
of the six famous Florida Reef Lights, a series of
offshore skeletal tower lighthouses constructed along the Florida
Keys during the middle to late nineteenth century. It was the
last link in the chain giving full visual coverage. It is an
excellent example of disk pie construction.
Established in 1880 and marks a hazardous reef 9.6 miles southwest
of Summerland Key. The structure’s skeletal tower is supported
by pilings and supports a Second Empire style keepers dwelling
and a stair and lantern. It is equipped with a modern optic
that signals a flashing white light visible for 10 miles in
clear weather, and RACON radar beacon. The optic also displays
two red sectors that mark areas of hazardous water to the east
and west. The skeletal tower lighthouse is 124 feet tall and
stands in approximately five feet of water.
Northeast Atlantic Coast
Plum Island Light Station is also known as
Plum Gut Light and is located at Orient Point in Suffolk County,
The Plum Island Light Station consists of the lighthouse, a
granite, gable-roofed residence with an integrated cast iron
tower that was constructed in 1869 and its associated c. 1900
brick oil house and c. 1920 wood-framed storage shed. It was
a manned station until it was deactivated in 1978.
A tubular steel space-framed tower west of the lighthouse carries
the active Plum Island light, an automated 190mm lantern. The
lighthouse itself is inactive. The Plum Island lighthouse was
one of six lighthouses constructed between 1867 and 1869 along
Long Island Sound. The Lighthouse, oil house and storage shed
retain a high degree of integrity of design, materials, and
setting despite the deterioration of interior surfaces and finishes.
Plum Island Light Station by
Harvey Barrison via Flickr
Plum Island, Great Gull Island, Little Gull Island, and Fisher’s
Island extend in a line from Orient Point on Long Island’s North
Fork across to Watch Hill, Rhode Island. The line of islands
is the eastern most point of Long Island Sound and the passages
between them are the entrances to Long Island Sound. Safe passage
through these often treacherous waters was a high priority for
the government. Besides the Plum Island Light Station, a number
of other aids to navigation were erected during the early and
mid-nineteenth century as prime examples of New York’s Third
Light-House District’s standard operations and architecture
of a “four order lighthouse”. This group of lighthouses has
a cohesive design in the Italianate style which is complimented
by the tower mounted on the roof. The design is distinguished
by the rock-faced granite walls simple articulated by quoins
and arched granite window and door surrounds. These other light
stations, such as Race Rock and Orient Point Light Station are
also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
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