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Lighthouse Construction Types
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Minots Ledge Lighthouse (1860) under construction (National Archives photo)
The United States has a diverse collection of lighthouse construction types. The majority of today's surviving 595 lighthouses are land based; close to a fourth have foundations built in the water. Lighthouses were built on land, in the water, on islands, on top of ledges and cliffs, on breakwaters and piers, on caissons, and at least five are on fort walls. The following list of lighthouse types is organized by "onshore" or "offshore."

Politics, need, cost, location, and geography of the site, as well as technology available at the time of construction influenced lighthouse designs. Before the mid-19th century, lighthouse construction technology required solid rock or other stable foundation soils; onshore towers sometimes proved inadequate to warn ships off a shoal located offshore. In some locations a lighted buoy or a lightship solved this problem. Riverine and estuarine environments, however, often had unstable muddy and/or sandy bottoms which could not support the heavy masonry towers then in vogue. In areas such as the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River delta, and the coral reefs of the Florida Keys, the development of newer technology using screwpile, caisson, and skeletal tower lighthouse construction was essential to adequately lighting the marine hazards.

Onshore Lighthouse Types

Stone Masonry (Rubblestone and Cut Stone)
Cast-Iron Plate
Skeletal (Iron and Steel)
Reinforced Concrete

Offshore Lighthouse Types

Straightpile and Screwpile
Texas Towers

Sources: Ralph Eshelman, "Lighthouse Construction Types," CRM Bulletin, Volume 20, No. 8 (Published by the National Park Service's Cultural Resources Program); Draft National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation form for "Light Stations of the United States;" and the National Maritime Initiative's Inventory of Historic Light Stations

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Last Modified: Tues, Dec 11 2001 2:56:48 pm EDT

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