National Lighthouse Day – August 7th
Each year countless people look forward to the date of August 7th – and with good reason. Our nation’s lighthouse heritage not only traces its roots back to this historic day in 1789, it also is a wonderful opportunity to shine a “bright light” on the present day importance of lighthouses for the general public.
Upwards to 400 lighthouses still remain active aids to navigation throughout America, helping guide mariners safely along coastal and inland waterways. In addition, there are hundreds more – though now decommissioned, that continue to stand tall and remind us of where we have been as a people and a country. Whether shining or not, our surviving lighthouses are all beloved cultural icons that continue to beckon and fascinate untold numbers of visitors.
National Lighthouse Day also provides modern day “keepers” with a chance to exhibit their great pride and passion for lighthouses. And in a number of cases around the country, this special day has traditionally afforded the general public a chance to ascend the winding staircases of stately towers – all the while enjoying breathtaking views from the top and learning stories of dedication, valor, isolation, shipwrecks and tragedy.
These celebrations do not stop with tours. Organizations offer a host of other fun-learning activities to enjoy on National Lighthouse Day as well – including special cruises and presentations that pay tribute to the significance of this day to America’s lighthouses.
However, did you know that though National Lighthouse Day is celebrated annually by lighthouse organizations nationwide, Congress has yet to designate August 7 as the date our country officially recognizes in perpetuity the importance of America’s lighthouse heritage?
The original resolution that was enacted by Congress, in commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the signing of the Act and the commissioning of the first Federal lighthouse – as well as the subsequent Presidential proclamation that followed that designated August 7th as National Lighthouse Day, was only for the year in which it was enacted – 1989.
Twenty-four years later, a Senate Resolution was passed in 2013 that declared August 7, 2013 as National Lighthouse and Lighthouse Preservation Day, but similar to 1989, the recognition was only for that particular year.
Over the past couple of decades, lighthouse leaders from around the country have worked tirelessly to persuade Congress to permanently designate August 7 as National Lighthouse Day on America’s calendar, and though unsuccessful to date, those noble efforts continue.
However, even without official recognition from Congress, the nationwide lighthouse community continues to “keep the flame” of our rich lighthouse heritage alive and burning bright for the general public. The history and cause is just too important not to care about and celebrate.
In looking back, it was on this day (8/7) in 1789, that the first Congress approved an Act for the establishment and support of lighthouse, beacons, buoys and public piers.
How it all Started
The text for the original 1789 act…
“An Act for the Establishment and support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers.
“Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all expenses which shall accrue from and after the fifteenth day of August one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, in the necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers erected, placed, or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the treasury of the United States: Provided nevertheless, That none of the said expenses shall continue to be so defrayed by the United States, after the expiration of one year from the day aforesaid, unless such lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers, shall in the mean time be ceded to and vested in the United States, by the state or states respectively in which the same may be, together with the lands and tenements thereunto belonging, and together with the jurisdiction of the same.
“Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That a lighthouse shall be erected near the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, at such place, when ceded to the United States in manner aforesaid, as the President of the United States shall direct.
“Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to provide by contracts, which shall be approved by the President of the United States, for building a lighthouse near the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, and for rebuilding when necessary, and keeping in good repair, the lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers in the several States, and for furnishing the same with all necessary supplies; and also to agree for the salaries, wages, or hire of the person or persons appointed by the President, for the superintendence and care of the same.
“Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That all pilots in the bays, inlets, rivers, harbors and ports of the United States, shall continue to be regulated in conformity with the existing laws of the States respectively wherein such pilots may be, or with such laws as the States may respectively hereafter enact for the purpose, until further legislative provision shall be made by Congress. Approved: August 7, 1789”
In commemoration of the 150th year of the Lighthouse Service in the United States, the following action was taken by Congress and the President to recognize Lighthouse Week in August (week of the seventh) 1939…
President Signs Resolution on Lighthouse Anniversary Observance
From the June 1939 U.S. Lighthouse Service Bulletin…
“The President (Franklin D. Roosevelt), on May 15, approved Public Resolution No. 16 (H. J. Res. 241) calling for the commemoration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the enactment by the First Congress of the United States of the ninth act of that Congress, which laid the foundation of lighthouse work under Federal auspices.
“This early act was approved by President (George) Washington on August 7, 1789. The resolution, which has just recently been approved by President Roosevelt, requests the President to issue a proclamation calling for the observance of the week of August 7 as lighthouse week throughout the country.”
President Proclaims Week of August 7 as Lighthouse Week
From the July 1939 U.S. Lighthouse Service Bulletin…
“Lighthouse Week by the President of the United States of America – A Proclamation
“Whereas Public Resolution 16, Seventy-sixth Congress (53 Stat. 746), approved May 15, 1939, provides in part:
That the week commencing August 7, 1939, is hereby designated as Lighthouse Week in commemoration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the enactment by the first Congress of the United States of the ninth act of said Congress, which was approved by President George Washington on August 7, 1789, and laid the foundation of the United States Lighthouse Service by providing that all expenses in the necessary support, maintenance, and repairs of all lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers to render navigation safe and easy should be paid for by the Treasury of the United States. During said week all Government officials are hereby directed to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings, and are requested in appropriate manner to celebrate the enactment and approval of said act.
Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby requested, by appropriate proclamation, to call attention of all citizens of the United States to said event and to request the cooperation of all citizens, communities, civic organizations, States, municipalities, counties, public agencies, churches, and schools in an appropriate recognition of the devoted, efficient, faithful, and splendid work of the Lighthouse Service for 150 years in the safeguarding of life and property upon the sea.
“Now, therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do call upon the officials of the Government to observe the provisions of the aforesaid public resolution, invite the attention of all citizens of the United States to the celebration of Lighthouse Week commencing August 7, 1939…”
Celebration of One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Lighthouse Service a Marked Success
Excerpted from the August 1939 Coast Guard Bulletin…
“The celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Lighthouse Service, which took place during the week of August 7, as the result of a Presidential proclamation, proved eminently successful, according to such reports as have already been received at Coast Guard headquarters from various parts of the country. The combined Coast Guard and Lighthouse Service made every effort during that week to acquaint the general public with the work of building and maintaining lighthouses and other aids to marine navigation. Ships and stations, wherever accessible, were open to visitors, and local programs were arranged in many cities and towns. Lighthouses will continue throughout the anniversary year to make special efforts to entertain visitors.
“Chief event of the celebration was the exercises held at Cape Henry Lighthouse, Virginia, on August 7. Officers of the Coast Guard, the Lighthouse Service, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, Members of Congress, and civic officials united in colorful exercises held close to the old Cape Henry Lighthouse, first lighthouse to be built by the Federal Government.
“In many parts of the country, Governors of States and mayors of municipalities, followed the lead of the President and issued proclamations calling upon the general public to observe the week of August 7 as Lighthouse Week. Radio programs were broadcast during the week from stations in many cities, Coast Guard and Lighthouse personnel participating in numerous instances.
(Later) “Reports from lighthouse keepers indicate a very large increase in the number of visitors.”
In commemoration of the 200th year of Federal oversight of lighthouses in the United States, the following action was taken by Congress and the President to recognize August 7th as National Lighthouse Day in 1989…
Origins of National Lighthouse Day
Senator John H. Chafee (Rhode Island) sponsored a joint resolution that was introduced to Congress on April 28, 1988 designating the day of August 7, 1989 as “National Lighthouse Day.” The summary of the resolution stated, “Designates August 7, 1989, as National Lighthouse Day and calls for lighthouse grounds, where feasible, to be open to the public.” The resolution passed the Senate on July 26, 1988 and the House (sponsored by Representative William J. Hughes, New Jersey) on October 21, 1988. President Ronald Reagan signed the Bill into public law (No. 100-622) on November 5, 1988.
In Recognition of National Lighthouse Day… by Hon. William J. Hughes
(Extension of Remarks – July 26, 1989) [Page: E2691]
HON. WILLIAM J. HUGHES
in the House of Representatives
WEDNESDAY, JULY 26, 1989
Mr. HUGHES. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to call attention to a special occasion which communities all across America will be celebrating next week. August 7, 1989, marks the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Lighthouse Act and the commissioning of the first Federal lighthouse in the United States.
In honor of those events, I was proud to sponsor a resolution last year which designated August 7, 1989, as National Lighthouse Day. The celebration next week will provide some long overdue recognition for the important role which lighthouses played in the history of our country, and the values of safety, heroism, and American ingenuity which they represent. At the same time, I am hopeful that it will encourage communities and citizens groups around the country to rededicate themselves to the protection and restoration of these historic structures.
As America continues its technological progress into the 21st century, it becomes easy to forget the wholesomeness and serenity of preindustrial establishments such as lighthouses. The history they provide gives us the opportunity to step back in time and learn more about our country. The contributions they made to our society, from protecting our coasts to guiding our sailors, should continue to be appreciated and remembered.
I am proud to point out that there are three restored lighthouses in my congressional district in southern New Jersey. These three, the Cape May Point lighthouse, the Finns Point lighthouse, and the Hereford Inlet lighthouse, contribute greatly to New Jersey’s beautiful coastline.
The Cape May Point lighthouse, which was first lit on October 31, 1859, was reopened to the public in 1988 after being closed for 50 years. Today, with restoration virtually complete, its light once again shines bright, giving comfort to seamen nearly 19 miles into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Hereford Inlet lighthouse was built in 1874 and is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture. Under restoration since 1982, it continues to provide North Wildwood with a valuable monument to Cape May County’s maritime history.
Last, the Finns Point lighthouse, located in Pennsville, is a 113-year-old marvel. It served as an aid to navigation along the Delaware River from 1877 until 1950, when the river channel was enlarged and deepened.
Unfortunately, not every lighthouse is as lucky as these to have been adopted by a local citizens group or community. Many have fallen into disrepair and desperately need support. For this reason, I have been pleased to join with other Members of Congress in sponsoring legislation to establish the National Bicentennial Lighthouse Fund in order to provide Federal assistance for local lighthouse restoration efforts.
Mr. Speaker, the National Lighthouse Day celebration on August 7, 1989, will indeed be a special event. I hope it further rejuvenates the spirit of these maritime institutions and the impressive restoration efforts which are now taking place in the many communities. It is important that future generations have the opportunity to learn more about and appreciate the unique role which lighthouses played in helping to build our great Nation. I hope that everyone will join me in supporting this effort in the months and years ahead. —
National Lighthouse Day Proclamation
Proclamation 5993 – National Lighthouse Day, 1989, by President George H. W. Bush on June 19, 1989:
“Lighthouses, the buildings whose solitary beacons have helped guide countless ships through the perils of fog and darkness, are a cherished part of our Nation’s heritage. These impressive structures have long symbolized safety, vigilance, and faithfulness. Often isolated and repeatedly tested by the ravages of storm and sea, lighthouses are also monuments to courage and determination of the people who built them and the keepers who have maintained them.
“Lighthouses claim an honored place in the maritime history of the United States. They have served as navigational aids indicating landfall, marking dangerous reefs, and identifying harbor entrances. Today, approximately 750 lighthouses remain in the United States, standing along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts, and throughout the Great Lakes. More than half of them are still used for navigation.
“On August 7, 1989, we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Lighthouse Act by our Nation’s first President, George Washington. The Lighthouse Act established the Federal Government’s role in the support, maintenance, and repair of these unique structures and commissioned the first Federal lighthouse.
“By the end of this year, the United States Coast Guard will have completed the automation of all lighthouses it currently operates, bringing an end to the proud and colorful era of manned lighthouses. In cooperation with affected communities and concerned organizations, the Coast Guard is working to preserve the remaining structures and to educate the public on the role of lighthouses in our history and culture. These groups have succeeded in having more than 200 lighthouses listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“In recognition of the historic value of our Nation’s lighthouses and the ongoing efforts to preserve them so that they might be opened to and enjoyed by the public, the Congress, by Public Law 100-622, has designated August 7, 1989, as ‘National Lighthouse Day’ and has authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this day.
“Now, Therefore, I, George Bush, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim August 7, 1989, as National Lighthouse Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
“In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this nineteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirteenth.”