When the first lighthouse was built on Boston’s Little Brewster Island in 1716, there’s little doubt that the engineers and keepers could know just how iconic these structures would become throughout the USA. Here’s a look at some of the lighthouses throughout the country that you can climb and take a peek at their original Fresnel lenses, created in Paris, which sent light out further and brighter, helping ships steer into the safe waters.
Originally built in 1771, prior to the American Revolution, the current Portsmouth Harbor Light in New Hampshire was built in 1878 and stands 48 feet tall. A short climb of 44 stairs leads to the watch room, and a seven-rung ladder leads to the lantern room, where the fourth order Fresnel lens, which arrived in 1854, is housed.
The Fire Island Lighthouse, one of the most-visited in the USA, was originally built in 1826; the current, 180-foot lighthouse began operation in 1858. Atop its 192 steps are incredible views of Long Island, and on clear days, perhaps even the Manhattan skyline. The 16-foot original first order Fresnel lens, first lit when the lighthouse opened in 1858, is on display in its own building alongside the lighthouse.
Towering 171 feet over Atlantic City, Absecon Lighthouse is the tallest in all of New Jersey, and the third tallest in the USA. The first order Fresnel lens was first lit in January 1857, and the lighthouse went electric in 1925. 228 steps lead to the top of the lighthouse, the Fresnel lens, and its views for miles of the boardwalk and beaches below.
Like its popular neighbor, the Cape Hatteras Light Station, the Bodie Island Light Station (pronounced body) in North Carolina’s Outer Banks sports black and white stripes. A recent restoration reopened the light station to the public in 2013, and visitors can now climb its 214 steps to the top for stunning views and a look at its original 1872 Fresnel lens, with 377 glass prisms, weighing in at 9,000 pounds and valued at $2 million.
Florida’s St. Augustine Lighthouse also features the iconic black and white stripes, with a splash of red at the top. A climb up the 219 steps to 165 feet above sea level affords views of the Nation’s Oldest City. At the top, too, sits a first order Fresnel lens, 12 feet tall and six feet in diameter, made of 370 hand-cut glass prisms.
Further south, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, built in 1860, stands 105 feet tall and provides stunning views up to 24 miles out to the Atlantic Ocean. Atop the 105-step cast iron spiral stairway sits a first order Fresnel lens, thought to be the oldest in the State of Florida.
Similar looking to the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, Michigan’s Little Sable Point Lighthouse was built in 1867 and stands 107 feet tall on the east coast of Lake Michigan. Visitors are encouraged to climb its 130 steps for the views, and to see the 140-year-old third order Fresnel lens.
Wisconsin’s Eagle Bluff Lighthouse was constructed in 1868 to help schooners and boats traveling Green Bay arrive to their destinations safe and sound with its three and a half order Fresnal lens. Today, the 75-foot lighthouse still guides vessels through the narrow Strawberry Channel, and provides visitors with 360-degree views of the Green Bay islands and Michigan shoreline.
Perhaps the most-photographed lighthouse in the USA, the Heceta Head Light perches 205 feet above the crashing ocean below on Oregon’s rugged coastline. Built in 1892, an original first order Fresnel lens was first lit in 1894 and shines bright 21 miles out to sea, sitting atop the 56-foot lighthouse.
Rebuilt in 1908 after an earthquake damaged the original 1870 structure, the Point Arena Lighthouse stands 115 feet tall 130 miles north of San Francisco and is the tallest along the Pacific Ocean. Atop its 145 steps from the original 1870 staircase are amazing views of the Pacific. The original first order Fresnel lens, more than six feet in diameter and weighing more than six tons, with 666 hand-ground glass prisms and valued at more than $3.5 million, is on display in the museum adjacent to the tower.
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