RESEARCH, FIELD WORK, AND DOCUMENTATION
Research Aids to navigation have been described in a variety of ways. Reports
describing aids to navigation emphasize features of interest to different audiences.
For example, navigators only needed to know the description and position of a
lighthouse. Accountants needed physical descriptions of all property at a light
station. Engineers needed technical data. In evaluating the significance of aids
to navigation, all of these various sources may be useful.
National Park Service, in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, lighthouse historians,
preservationists, groups, and owners, is compiling a computerized inventory of
all known, extant historic lighthouses and aids to navigation in the United States
and its territories: Preliminary Inventory of Historic Aids to Navigation in the
United States. The various characteristics, including location, type, foundation,
materials, date of establishment, date of construction for the extant aid, type
and number of structures at a station, height, focal plane, and type of optic
and sound signal, for example, are listed in the inventory. The inventory is constantly
revised and annually released as a photocopied publication.
files on most lighthouses are available at the historian's office of the U.S.
Coast Guard at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. A national overview describing
418 of an estimated 1,200 lights is available in America's Lighthouses: An Illustrated
History by Francis Ross Holland. Several regional lighthouse histories and guides
have been published. Lighthouses and other aids to navigation may also have been
surveyed by the State Historic Preservation Office or locally. The State Historic
Preservation Officer should be consulted to determine if the State has information
which will assist in the evaluation of the aid to navigation. Information may
also be available from local and regional maritime and lighthouse museums, the
Office of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian and the aids to navigation branch of
the U.S. Coast Guard at their Washington, D.C., headquarters, Coast Guard district
offices, the Maritime Department of the National Trust for Historic Preservation,
and national organizations such as the United States Lighthouse Society, the Lighthouse
Preservation Society, and the Great Lakes Light Keepers Association, as well as
other maritime historical and/or preservation organizations and professionals.
One or more of these organizations or individuals may have already researched
the career of a lighthouse or evaluated its significance. A listing, including
address and telephone number, of these and other such groups and individuals is
available from the Maritime Preservation Department of the National Trust for
Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.
of a light or sound signal were published by the Federal government from 1838
to 1851 as a List of Lighthouses, Beacons, and Floating Lights of the United States.
In 1852 the Lighthouse Board began publication of a Light List, which through
the years has grown and improved. The current edition of the Light List is a five-volume
work systematically and geographically arranged. Lights are listed by State and
Coast Guard district and then sequentially along the coast or waterway. It lists:
- the navigation chart number on which
the light appears
- the name of the light
- its characteristics
- its location (both latitude and longitude and a written description)
a description of the structure
- its height above the ground and the height
of its focal plane
- the range of the signal
- remarks on features
such as color and reflectors, and
- whether the aid is privately or publicly
The Light List is the primary
historical reference to be consulted for obtaining the legal measurements of a
light. The edition published in the year that the aid was first built and those
published in subsequent years should be consulted along with the present edition
to determine changes to the aid through its career. A complete set of the Light
List is available at the Library of Congress. Various editions are available in
regional libraries and repositories. The current edition is available for sale
through the Government Printing Office.
The particulars of an
aid to navigation's career will largely be found in the annual reports of the
Lighthouse Board, Bureau, and Service, published from 1852 to 1939, and thenceforth
in the annual reports of the Coast Guard. Detailed correspondence (including materials
purchases; change orders; and references to political pressures involved in establishing,
constructing, and operating lighthouses, including the highly detailed description
forms forwarded to the Commissioner of Lighthouses) is compiled in Record Group
26, the records of the Coast Guard, at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Record Group 26 also includes plans of some lights. Many original drawings and
plans of operating aids are filed with Coast Guard district offices. For several
years, descriptions of light and sound signal stations were required from keepers
and filled out on printed forms. These forms are a good source of real property
descriptions of light stations and should be consulted. Copies may be found in
the National Archives, at some Coast Guard Regional and local offices, and occasionally
in historical societies and museums. The United States Lighthouse Society library
(see bibliography) holds a number of these forms as well.
any extant drawings or plans of the aid to navigation, e.g., construction plans,
drawings, and renderings of lenses and other equipment may be useful. Technical
manuals on the operation of specific equipment, such as sound signals, lamps,
or lenses, may also be consulted if the property retains such equipment. Historic
photographs, lithographs, and sketches of an aid, including construction photographs,
overall views, and interiors, may help to assess construction methods, workmanship,
and specific features. Local newspapers may reference the construction of an aid
to navigation. Research at local and State historical societies, museums, and
libraries may also prove helpful. Diaries, letters, and reminiscences of keepers
and their families are yet another invaluable resource but require time and effort
examination of an aid to navigation may involve more than one visit to acquire
a thorough understanding of the aid's construction, equipment, and layout. When
evaluating a property for the first time, a guided tour of the aid, emphasizing
condition, restoration or maintenance work, and the aid's history should be conducted
by knowledgeable individuals. Often, the most knowledgeable persons will be aids
to navigation officers of the Coast Guard, as well as the crews who maintain active
aids to navigation. Discussions of foundations, such as caissons or screw piles,
should be reviewed with engineers. The field examination of an aid to navigation
should be a thorough process which leaves an evaluator with complete understanding
of how an aid to navigation was built, operated, modified, and maintained through
As the research
and field work progress, files of notes, sketches, reproduced reference materials,
and photographs should be compiled. If an aid to navigation has changed over time,
chronologically arranged files of plans, photographs, and notes will help to understand
the progression and nature of the alterations. Color slides of the aid to navigation
may be useful in preparing the National Register nomination when returning to
the site is not possible.
Black and white photographs of the
aid to navigation should be taken. The quality of the photographs actually included
in the nomination will benefit from selecting among a wide choice of photographs.
Historic photographs and graphics may be located and copied for inclusion with
the nomination. Historic plans may be copied in photographs to aid in documentation.
If historic plans do not exist, modern plans may be prepared.