Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Foundations & Footprints

Lighthouse sites, often, undergo many iterations. The buildings and towers come and go. Time and the elements conspire to ruin them, as does neglect and human interference. Wars, earthquakes, storms, and the agreed-upon tearing down of old structures all contribute to the flux. These losses are sometimes inevitable. But lately, we seem to be better at saving the remains.

On a recent trip to Tampa, Florida I visited Egmont Key Lighthouse, a few miles off the main harbor. It was foggy when I boarded the small ferry to the key. The skipper kept joking that he'd find the place, no matter the fog. After a few minutes of poking fun at the weather, I realized he was serious. He had a compass and was "aiming" for the key. The sight of that tall white lighthouse emerging from the murk is what told him he'd aimed accurately!

Egmont Key, like its shifty kin, is restless, re-drawing its shoreline with every storm and even the slight movements of sand with the daily wind and tide. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife staff on the island showed me several maps that documented the changes to the key over time. It was obvious some of the buildings are now under water in the Gulf of Mexico.

The lighthouse is not. It still stands, sturdy and strong and doing its job. It's the second tower on the site. A gentleman from the Egmont Key Alliance showed me a pile of bricks in a curved shape. It was the remains of the site's first lighthouse.

I always experience a bit of euphoria when I discover these old foundations...and a feeling of reverence too, much like we sense when visiting a graveyard. Remains of old lighthouses are the remains of old soldiers who once stood watch. Below are few such sites. Except where noted, all photos are from Wikimedia Commons or the USLHS--

Above are the ruins of Michigan's Old Cheyboygan Lighthouse. Below is the grave of New Jersey's Ludlam Beach Lighthouse.

Above, Tony Moore photographed all that remains of the Whale Rock Lighthouse at the entrance to the West Passage of the Narragansett Bay. The light tower was wrenched away violently in the Great September Hurricane of 1938 and the lightkeeper was killed.

Below is William Waterway, who discovered the remains of the first light tower at Gay Head, Massachusetts, built in 1799. The woodcut shows what the original lighthouse was like. This site on Martha's Vineyard has received considerable notoriety in the past few years as the place President Obama and his family like to vacation.

Above, courtesy of the late Bill Quinn, is one of the foundations of the Three Sisters of Nauset, a historic trio of small lighthouses that once stood on the cliff o the Backside of Cape Cod. They slid over the cliff many years ago and were replaced. The tide uncovered the old foundations from time to time.

Here are the remains of Indonesia's Cikenong Lighthouse, also called Fourth Point Lighthouse. The tower was ripped off its foundation in 1883 by a tsunami generated by the eruption of Krakatoa. Roman at Java Rhino Tours sent me the photo.

Above is the original foundation of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, a tower that was moved due to erosion and pre-dates all the rocket launch pads around it. The image is from

This image shows the foundation stones of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (, which was moved back from the sea a few years ago. Volunteers inscribed the names of the lightkeepers on the foundation stones that were left behind, but erosion has begun to cover them with sand. There's a movement afoot to move them. Of course, if moved they would lose their significance as a marker for the original site.

I enjoy seeing for myself the evidence of where these structures once stood and examining their remains for clues to what the past was like. "Someone else stood here long ago..." I like to think. They truly are human footprints in stone or brick....and layers of history.