Monday, April 15, 2013

Lighthouse License Plates

Today, I'm thinking about license plates that feature lighthouses. There are a number of them, and most are recent. I'm reminded of this topic because today I have a conference call with the Washington Lighthouse License Plate Grant Committee to review the Step 1 applications for grant money awards. I'm a member of the grant committee, along with Capt. Gene Davis of the Coast Guard Museum NW, Gene Grulich, a Puget Sound architect who has done work on Northwest lighthouses, and Julie Pigot and Linda Crow of the Lighthouse Environmental Programs at Admiralty Head Lighthouse. Washington's lighthouse license plate became available in 2006, and each year some of the funds earned from its sale go to lighthouse preservation in the state. The plate features a generic Northwest lighthouse in the style of Alki Light and Point Robinson Light. The image is based on a watercolor painting by artist Janet Orso. Each year, the committee awards about $25,000 in grants for local lighthouse projects.

Most of the lighthouse license plates in the Unites States support a particular lighthouse or group of lighthouses. Purchase of these plates provides a charitable donation and a lovely and functional plate for your car. They also raise the profile of ligthhouses and stress the importance of saving them. Some plates are available to collectors as "samples" only. Below are some examples of lighthouse license plates from various states.

Barnegat Lighthouse at Long Beach Island is featured on a New Jersey license plate. Nicknamed "Old Barney," it was built by George Gorden Meade, who later distinguished himself as the Union general who defeated Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. I've visited this lighthouse several times. The beach here is a lovely place to relax, but I'm told Hurricane Sandy did some serious damage to the area. A local summer newspaper I contribute to is published here--The Beachcomber.

North Carolina's famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is available on a license plate. It is the tallest lighthouse in the United States and was moved back from the sea some years ago to prevent erosion from undermining and destroying it. I like the tagline, "Guardian of the Graveyard of the Atlantic." The Outer Banks is one of several Eastern Seaboard locales that lays claim to the title "Graveyard of the Atlantic." I've read there about 2,400 shipwrecks off the OB.

The rescue of Rhode Island's Plum Beach Lighthouse is an amazing lighthouse preservation story. This small caisson lighthouse sits near the Jamestown Bridge in the notoriously foggy Narragansett Bay. In the 1970s and again in the 1980s and 90s, when I lived in Connecticut and often drove to Newport, I saw this lighthouse from the bridge. It was such an eyesore--decommissioned and deteriorated. It was my go-to lighthouse picture during my public talks to rouse interest in lighthouse preservation. A grassroots group formed in the 1990s and, after considerable effort, restored the light. Their story is replete with government red tape and the challenges often experienced in lighthouse restoration, including a difficult and dangerous removal of bird guamo from the interior and exterior of the lighthouse. Plum Beach Light certainly deserves a place on a license plate, and the funds earned through the purchase of the plate have helped in its restoration.
I have at Connecticut plate like this one, featuring the breakwater lighthouse at the mouth of the Connecticut River. The plate supports the Long Island Sound Project. This was one of the first lighthouse license plates (perhaps even the first one!). My plate was retired to my office wall when I left Connecticut in 1999.
Delaware offers this generic lighthouse plate. Though a small state, Delaware has a number of coastal lighthouses and many sentinels in the Delaware Bay, the major portal to Philadelphia. I think this is a representation of the cast iron lighthouse at Lewes.
Florida's lighthouse license plate features St. Augustine Lighthouse. (FYI--St. Augustine Light and Cape Hatteras Light look similar. The differences are easy to spot though. For one, St.Augustine Light wears a red hat and Cape Hatteras Light wears a black hat.) The Florida Lighthouse Association is the recipient of license plate funds and uses them for deserving projects at Florida lighthouses. I'm proud of this very successful group. When I lived in Florida in the late 1970s no one cared much about the Sunshine State lighthouses. I couldn't find any books about them, so I ended up writing one (my first book). It's still in print.
The Nauset Light is featured on a Massachusetts plate. It has an interesting history and was moved back from the sea to prevent its loss. This was the second move for the lighthouse. Originally, it sat at Chatham as one of a set of twin lights. It was moved by barge to Nauset Beach after the twin lights were discontinued. Visit Chatham Light today, and you'll see Nauset's twin sister sentry. The twins wear different dresses and hats these days, but their towers are the same cast iron shape. The dwelling at Nauset Beach was privately owned for many years after the station was automated. I spent a pleasant afternoon at the Nauset dwelling in about 1990 visiting with the owner and talking about lighthouses over a cup of tea. It was spring and the surf was pounding loudly--like claps of thunder--on the beach far below. It was a reminder of how tenuous and tortured the backside of Cape Cod is and how difficult it was for the old Lighthouse Service to keep this dangerous coast lighted. The dwelling now belongs to the National Park Service and has been moved next to the lighthouse to preserve it. Not far away are the very historic Three Sisters of Nauset, the nation's only triple lights. They have been preserved by the NPS.
Lovely Biloxi Lighthouse is featured on a Mississippi plate. The lighthouse stands in a highway median not far from the historic home of Confederate president, Jefferson Davis.
Yes, Ohio has lighthouses! Lake Erie is a dangerous and much-traveled body of inland water and its shore has many lighthouses. Marblehead Lighthouse is shown on this plate. Visit in the autumn for a picture perfect view of colored folliage and the crisp white lighthouse with its red lantern.
I lived in Virginia in the mid-1970s, but this plate wasn't available at the time. It features three iconic Virginia lighthouses--Assateague Light, Old Cape Henry Light, and New Cape Henry Light. On a visit to Assateague Light in the early 1990s, I had fun photographing the wild ponies on the island. Some of them were mooching snacks from tourists in the parking area!
If you love lighthouses, and your state offers a lighthouse license plate, purchase one to support lighthouse preservation and other charitable projects. The portion of the plate cost that supports a charity is tax deductible, and you'll be able to advertise your hobby wherever you drive. People often stop by my car in parking lots or pull up next to me at traffic lights and ask about my plate. It's beautiful and supports a good cause.


  1. I really thank you for the valuable info on this great subject and look forward to more great posts. Thanks a lot for enjoying this beauty article with me. I am appreciating it very much! Looking forward to another great article. Good luck to the author! All the best!

  2. Hi Elinor - Do you know who is the artist who created the CT "Long Island Sound" plate? I met him the other day at Staples and thought I would remember his name but didn't. I saw the plate here and wondered if you happen to know more about its creator. I have just begun an Internet search for info so it may very well be at my fingertips though I haven't seen it yet. Thank you for sharing this lovely page and any other information you might have on this artwork.


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