Long before the days of GPS, lighthouses played an integral role in keeping sailors safe on the water. There was no Siri to tell them where to go, so they simply had to fully rely on their wits … and Lighthouses. On August 7, 1789, the U.S. Congress recognized the importance of Lighthouses and passed the Act for the Establishment and Support of Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers. This act officially put lighthouses under federal control, attempting to make navigation for sailors more efficient and safer.
The act specified that it was “the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury” to oversee that the act’s provisions be carried out. This included maintenance of all lighthouses and aids to navigation, as well as overseeing construction of the mandated lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay.
Alexander Hamilton became the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789, a little over a month after the Lighthouse Act was passed. Thus, Secretary Hamilton oversaw the transition of responsibility for all existing lighthouses (and other aids to navigation) from the various states and municipalities to the federal government.
Two hundred years later, The United States Lighthouse Society petitioned for August 7, 1989, to be deemed National Lighthouse Day, in honor of the day that Congress signed the Act. This petition only deemed National Lighthouse Day to be a holiday for that specific year.
Then, on August 7, 2013, the Senate passed a resolution stating that every August 7th be declared National Lighthouse Day. Although not officially law, the recognition of August 7th as National Lighthouse and Lighthouse Preservation Day continues with the government and its agencies including the National Park Service who maintains a number of historic lighthouses across the country.
Everyone is invited to celebrate National Lighthouse Day at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Learn the history of Florida’s first Lighthouse and take a Behind the Scenes tour, offered daily on the hour from 11am to 3pm. Museum hours are 9am to 7pm seven days each week, with hours changing to 9am to 6pm after Labor Day.
For more details on the tours and National Lighthouse Day, visit www.staugustinelighthouse.org.
Find more events in St. Augustine by visiting our online calendar of events!