A shot of people walking around a pathway to the Sankaty Head Lighthouse in Nantucket
Doug Butchy/Flickr

7 All-American Lighthouses

Throughout the 19th century, expanding America’s bustling shipping corridors depended on a network of sturdy, often lonely lighthouses. Superseded by improved navigational technology, only about 600 of these romantic coastal towers are left; many face extinction. Here are 7 that preservationists are working to save.

Black and white striped lighthouse lit up at night with light shining from behind
William Greene/Flickr
Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

It’s been built and rebuilt three times since 1847—first to correct a Pisa-like tilt, then to replace the tower blown up by Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. The third time was the charm, and now this 150-foot-high (46m), black-and-white banded stone tower can be seen for miles. Though it’s not as tall as its famous neighbor, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Bodie’s light still operates, warning ships of the perilous Outer Banks waters. www.nps.gov/caha/index.htm

Shot with Sankaty head lighthouse in the background against the water. Foregrounded is a golf course
Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism/Flickr
Sankaty Head, Nantucket, Massachusetts

New England’s most powerful light shone since 1850 from this white-and-red-striped, brick-and-granite structure overlooking dangerous shoals on the outer end of Nantucket Island. Over the years it became a popular tourist attraction, with particularly breathtaking views from its 70-foot-high (21m) bluff. Erosion of the steep bluff threatened its existence, however, and in 2007 the entire lighthouse was moved 405 feet (123m) inland. www.sconsettrust.org

Lighthouse on Island in middle of Hudson River with a fall foliage in the background
Esopus Lighthouse, Esopus, New York

The Esopus Lighthouse—aka the Middle Hudson Lighthouse or “the Maid of the Meadows”—was opened in 1871 to warn Hudson River craft of treacherous mud flats. Growing out of the roof of a substantial white-frame house squeezed onto a granite pier in the middle of the river, it had become seriously dilapidated by 1990. A major restoration saved it from collapse; its light was finally turned back on in 2003. http://www.esopusmeadowslighthouse.org/

Shot of white lighthouse on big rocky island on overcast day
White Island, New Hampshire

On the Isle of Shoals, 10 miles (16km) off the New Hampshire coast, poet Celia Thaxter lived as a child in this white 1859 brick-and-stone lighthouse on White Island. It’s still a working lighthouse (though the light is now automated), but it was badly battered in storms in 1984, 1991, and 2007. However, an enthusiastic group of seventh-graders is working to restore its severely cracked interior. www.lighthousekids.org.

Photo taken from beach of faded brown and white faded lighthouse cast with hues of afternoon light sitting out at sea
Morris Island Lighthouse, Charleston, South Carolina

A beloved landmark guarding the entrance to Charleston harbor, the Morris Island Light dates to 1876 (its predecessor was destroyed in the Civil War); it has survived many hurricanes and an earthquake, but time has taken its toll. The foundation is weakened, the tower leans, and beach erosion swept away its once-grand living quarters, leaving the lighthouse stranded alone 1,600 feet (490m) offshore. Walk over the dunes of Folly Beach to see this faded brown-and-white beauty. www.savethelight.org.

Lighthouse coming out of red-roofed white house on a forested island with a boat in the foreground
Pete Markham/Flickr
Raspberry Island Lighthouse, Bayfield, Wisconsin

The Great Lakes have their lighthouses too—rough waters made the shipping channel around Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands particularly hazardous, creating a need for the Raspberry Island Light to be built in 1863. Touted as the Showplace of the Apostle Islands, the substantial red-roofed white-frame house below the light tower was repeatedly expanded for lightkeepers’ families and assistants. But its bluff-top site faces serious erosion from Superior’s pounding waves. www.nps.gov/apis.

Pictured is a tall, slim black lighthouse with a granite base in the middle of the Gulf Coast on a small rocky island.
National Register of Historic Places
Sand Island Lighthouse, Alabama

Standing 125 feet (38m) tall, this slim black tower near the mouth of Mobile Bay was the third built on this Gulf Coast island—once 400 acres (160 hectares), now eroded to a narrow strip of sand. Built of wood on a granite base, it was hit badly by hurricanes in 1906 and 1919. Left to crumble for many years, it now belongs to the nearby town of Dauphin Island. www.sandislandlighthouse.com.