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History of Lighthouses

Some may see a lighthouse is simply a tower or building that puts out a beam of light to help ships and boats navigate. And lighthouse is to mark coastlines and hazardous spots or the entryways into harbors but they are so much more than. The history of lighthouses parallels the history of our nation. The first lighthouse in North America was in Florida. As our country grew along the coast lighthouses were built in major ports and inlets. It was an essential part of our early development and remains an essential part of Maritime navigation even today.

Lighthouses date back thousands of years. One of the most famous lighthouses was the Lighthouse of Alexandria which was built in 280 BC. The modern-day lighthouse became more prominent starting in the 17th century. The US Bureau of lighthouses was created by Congress in 1789 but today lighthouses fall under the United States Coast Guard.

In 1835 the first lighthouse was built at Ponce Inlet. It was on the south side of Mosquito Lagoon. Unfortunately it was doomed seemingly from the beginning. First the oil was never delivered. The oil is what fueled the lamp. And right after that a strong storm washed away a lot of the sand around the lighthouse. Then the Seminole Indians not involved and they attacked the Ponce Inlet lighthouse and pretty much destroyed it.

Despite a number of shipwrecks in the area there was no other effort to establish a lighthouse in till 1883. The lamp was first lit in 1887. The famous author Stephen Crane was on a ship that sank in 1897. Crane and a few of the ships crew saw the light at Mosquito Inlet and rowed that way in their dinghy. This adventure on the central Florida coast was the basis of his story "The Open Boat".

In 1939 the Coast Guard took over the management of this Florida lighthouse. Then in 1970 the Coast Guard set up a new beacon at New Smyrna Beach. The city then took over the Ponce Inlet lighthouse. In 1972 the lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was not until 1982 that the lighthouse became active again. And then in 1998 this wonderfully historic lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark. There are only 10 lighthouses that have received this prestigious designation.