Remember When …



Living in Michigan most of my life, effects how I think about other parts of the world, our state has it all! With the best freshwater beaches, the nicest people and the 140 lighthouses, more than any other state.

I went to Florida last week to my grandson’s graduation and while there I visited a local lighthouse and it reminded me of home. The Great Lakes have a total of 267 lighthouses because of the rough coasts. Have you ever gone into a lighthouse or seen where the lighthouse keepers live? Maybe you walked up the hundreds of spiraling stairs to the top and looked at the (Optic) lenses that illumine the light?

With about 1,500 Lighthouses built in the America over the past 250 years, there are 850 lighthouses working at all times, to help protect ships from crashing into the coast. Aug. 7 is “National Lighthouse Day.”

This is to protect the lighthouses, an Act was passed in the U.S. Congress in 1789. The oldest operating lighthouse in America is “The Boston Light” built 304 years ago in the Boston harbor and still working today with a keeper. Maine has 80 lighthouses which is the second most in the U.S. There are 17 lighthouses on the whole east coast of America and the west coast has 87 lighthouses.

The lighthouse at Mackinac Island. Photos courtesy of the Burton Area Historical Society

The lighthouse at Mackinac Island. Photos courtesy of the Burton Area Historical Society

The Statue of Liberty was the first American lighthouse to use electricity in 1886.

The first lighthouse in the world was built in Egypt decades after Alexander the Great died; “Pharos of Alexander” in 280 B.C. it stood 450’ high. This was one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World until the 1300s and it was destroyed by many earthquakes by 1480. Before a lighthouse, the people used to build a fire on the coast to guide people where to dock their ships. This was so dangerous on some coastal waters that ships would crash, so they made lighthouses to guide ships, and to know it was not safe to come ashore. There had to be someone (a keeper) that took care of the lighthouse every day, at first, they had to keep the candles lit and wax cleaned up.

Mona Ballge’s grandson in a lighthouse in Florida, recently.

Mona Ballge’s grandson in a lighthouse in Florida, recently.

Many lighthouses were built over the years, trying to find a better way to make them brighter, it had to be very bright for the ships to see even in stormy weather. This history is interesting starting with candles that had to stay lit or keep oil in the lamps and electricity made it easier with light bulbs. To be able to make the light brighter they used all types of glass lens, especially magnifying glass to shine far out into the ocean all year round (see photo of the top of a lighthouse).

There were also buoys, beacons and public piers to help navigate through the rough waters, the U.S. Coastguard has been overseeing these since 1939. I love lighthouses, go find one, they seem to be strong with a fantastic view, especially at sunset. I hope we are a lighthouse to the world in these crazy times.

Remember When is a weekly column in the Burton View featuring historical stories about the community from the Burton Area Historical Society. If you have some Burton history to share, email History.