Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lighthouses Energize And Inspire The Imagination--Plan A Visit To One Of These Surviving Icons

Pigeon Point Light Station
Resplendent cylindrical structures set upon the edges of picturesque seascapes, they were built to guide mariners away from dangerous shores and into safe harbors. Like giant grandfather clocks without hands, their weighted pull chains did not tick off the time of day but the light of night. Equipped with far reaching lights that radiated through the doom and gloom, they were a welcoming sight after dangerous ocean voyages. They bask in the glow of a long and illustrious history deeply immersed in stories with haunting themes. The keepers of the light and their families lived on sight and often in lonely isolation. Surviving iconic symbols of a beguiling era representative of adventure and peril, lighthouses energize and inspire the imagination.

Although, many of the remaining lighthouses have been decommissioned as light sources due to either erosion or technology, some still shine on. Of the decommissioned lighthouses, some of them have been turned into tourist attractions where you can ascend spiraling stairways to dizzying heights into its lantern room and then, step out onto a catwalk with an unparalleled 360 degree view of the surrounding area. Others have been turned into comfortable and cozy bed and breakfast's where you can experience life in the keeper's quarters and soak in the unique amenities characteristic to each one.

Many lighthouse complexes were built on the edge of rocky ledges, some on isolated islands, and some on sandy beaches. All of them offer unprecedented views. From the long list of beautiful lighthouses in the United States, I have picked out four you will want to consider visiting.

Tybee Island Light Station is only twenty minutes from Savannah, Georgia. There have been four different lighthouses. The first was built in 1736. It was called a "day mark"--a lighthouse without a light. It was octagonal in shape and was constructed of brickwork and cedar piles. Standing ninety feet tall, it was the tallest structure of its kind in America at that time, but only lasted five years before a storm to it out.

The second lighthouse was completed in 1742. Unfortunately, by 1768, rising waters made it necessary to abandon it. Another site was chosen for a new lighthouse, which was completed in 1773. The 100 foot tall brick and wood structure was lit with spermaceti candles. In 1857, a Second Order Fresnel lens was placed in the lighthouse. Two years into the Civil War, Confederate troops burned the upper portion to prevent Federal troops from using it to guide their ships into the harbor. After the Civil War, the fourth lighthouse was built utilizing the lower 60 feet of the damaged lighthouse. It now stands at 144 feet with 178 stairs to reach the light room where a the lens magnifies a 1000 watt bulb that can be seen from eighteen miles away.

The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America's most intact lighthouses having all of its historic support buildings on its five-acre site including a museum and a gift shop. Unlike many of the old lighthouses, it is open to the public where you can ascend the 178 stairs for a spectacular view of area.

The Point Arena Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast at 115 feet. It is located in Mendocino County just above the Sonoma Coast and about three hours north of San Francisco. The original lighthouse was built in 1870, but was damaged so severely in the 1906 earthquake, it had to be demolished. The present lighthouse was completed in 1908.

It featured a 1st Order Fresnel Lens, over six feet in diameter and weighing more than six tons. The lens was made up of 666 hand-ground glass prisms all focused toward three sets of double bullseyes. It was these bullseyes that gave the Point Arena Lighthouse its unique "light signature" of two flashes every six seconds. The lens was rotated by a clockwork mechanism--a unique feature of lighthouses before the utilization of electricity. This mechanism consisted of a series of heavy weights and pulleys, similar to that of a grandfather clock, and had to be rewound every hour to keep the lamp rotating.

The lighthouse is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. It offers 4 different lodging opportunities--Assistant Keeper's Quarters-$250 per night (three-bedroom homes), Head Keeper's Quarters-$225 per night, The Keeper's Apartment- $200 per night, and The Keeper's Room -$150 per night. Amenities include cozy wood-burning stoves (wood provided), complete kitchens, satellite TV, some units are pet friendly, and restaurants and services nearby.

The area offers wine tasting tours, art galleries displaying art created by local artists, and seasonal farmer's markets. Horse riding on the ocean terrace is also available in the area. During the spring and fall seasons whales, seals, sea birds, and many other types of wildlife can be seen in the area.

The East Brother Light Station is my favorite. It is only 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco and sits on top of an island in the strait separating the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays--a ten-minute boat ride to the island from the boat landing in Richmond.

The Victorian style lighthouse began operation in 1874. The original lens was illuminated by a wick filled with whale oil. Later, the means of illumination was replaced by a fifth-order Fresnel lens powered by a 500-watt bulb. The San Francisco Bay area is one of the foggiest places on the coast, so the island lighthouse was also outfitted with a fog horn. The keepers lived on the island with their families and cared for its operation until it became automated in 1969.

Five rooms are available on East Brother Island. Four are former keeper's quarters located in the historic lighthouse itself. Each room, named for its view, is unique in decor and has a queen-sized bed--Marin Room-$375-$415 per night, San Francisco-$375-$415 per night, Two Sisters-$295-$325 per night, and West Brother-$325-$355 per night. A smaller, more rustic room, known as Walter's Quarters, is located in the fog signal building-$325-$355 per night.

A gourmet multi-course dinner is one highlight of the evening. Dinner is served for all guests at the same time and in the dining room. Full breakfast is served in the dining room, at 9:00 am, for all guests. A house specialty, Lighthouse French Toast Soufflé is often served. The island offers spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, Mount Tamalpais, and the Marin coastline.

Four other lighthouses were built in the same design, but of those only two have survived--Hereford Inlet Light and Point Fermin Lighthouse.

When visiting the Outer Banks, plan a stop at these lighthouses--Currituck Beach Light Station and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

No comments: