I’ve seen the light (house) come shining!

The Kemah "faux" Lighthouse on Clear Lake, courtesy Scott Mesteller

We love our lighthouses, don’t we?

These days mostly iconic and automated, lighthouses always stood as a brave, lone soldier weathering the storms to protect our ships. All alone on the edge of the water, the lighthouse shown the way as the beacon of hope to struggling sea captains. Come this way! Or Don’t! Until recently, I didn’t know that much about lighthouses. For instance, the highest number of lighthouses of any country in the world is right here in the United States, the first being built in 1716 near Boston. From Florida to Hawaii we boast more than 700 lighthouses in the USA of the more than 18,000 around the world!

Oahu, Hawaii Lighthouse, courtesy Andrew Bergeron

Original lighthouses did their best to light the way with Lewis Lamps, but the game really changed in 1819 when Augustin Jean Fresnel (the ‘s’ is silent) invented the prism lens that reflected light some 20 miles across the ocean waters! That lens focused and magnified light and the Fresnel method is still used in modern lighting today (think flood lights and projector televisions).

The Fresnel lens. The prisms focused lamp light to send it miles across the water! Courtesy pixabay.com

You have to admire the original lighthouse keepers and their families, who not only weathered the storms but led rather lonely lives out there on those rocks. Their mission was to simply save ships and lives and did you know that the Bolivar Point lighthouse in our own backyard saved more than 100 lives in a single night? During the Great Storm of 1900, residents climbed ever higher, jamming into the lighthouse during the storm. They emerged safely the next morning to strewn bodies and a barren coast. I asked for a few pics of “our” lighthouse and I sure got them:

Courtesy Laura Hillman from Galveston Talk on Facebook
courtesy Ed Ferrin from Galveston Talk on Facebook
courtesy Alli Archer from Galveston Talk on Facebook

The Bolivar Point lighthouse has withstood 150 years of storms and, as one of the few still standing in our state, is undergoing renovation and preservation today with the cap in line to be replaced before this next hurricane season. Folks are busy in Bolivar and you can find out more at their website. Texas Highways online magazine has a terrific article on all of our Texas lighthouses right here.

While the lighthouse’s original purpose has been replaced with GPS systems, nautical charts, buoys and beacons, we continue to restore and preserve them. In fact, the U.S. Light House Society has loads of information on lighthouses. Their mission:

Although the almost 300-year-old era of manned light stations in this country has come to a close, those remaining symbols of our maritime heritage can, and should be, preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. With this in mind, the United States Lighthouse Society was founded to assist in the restoration and preservation of America’s lighthouses and to help qualified local groups in their efforts to return the nation’s lighthouses to the public domain.

Some lighthouses have become museums, hostels, bed & breakfasts! You can even become a lighthouse keeper for a night or take a lighthouse tour: check out this video! And, of course, you can become a member of the U.S. Light House Society to continue their endeavors.

While National Lighthouse Day is not until Aug. 7, the article that piqued my interest on the subject landed in my email box a few days ago, so have a look here at seven illuminating facts about lighthouses! Who knows, your curiosity might light up!

Enjoy the weekend and watch for the rain!

Adm. Franklin Billingsley, Texas Navy

Email me with questions, comments and ideas!

About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with four decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.