U.S. Lighthouse Society Digitizes Lighthouse Plans

Some of you may be familiar with the finding aid of lighthouse plans in the Cartographic Branch of the National Archives, in College Park, Maryland. More than 20 years ago, the National Archives photographed the main collection of lighthouse plans in Record Group 26 and provided them as letter-sized prints arranged in 3-ring binders. This year, these prints have been scanned by the U.S. Lighthouse Society for their growing digital archives.


In addition to providing important historical information, many of the plans are beautiful drawings. This map of Morris Island, S.C., shows the size of the island that the station once occupied. Today only the tower survives and is surrounded by water.


If you look carefully, you can see the main light station near the top of this map detail. Also note the two beacons and separate keeper’s dwelling for the range lights. The 1883 Light List indicates that the main light was “fixed white” and the beacons “fixed red.” The red range lights marked the “line of range for crossing the bar of the ‘Main Ship’ or ‘Pumpkin Hill’ channel into Charleston Harbor.”


“Plan of Tiling” for Morris Island. Many first-order lighthouses constructed in the 1870s had this type of diamond tiling on the floor of the tower’s ground level.

Below we have an 1876 chart showing the aids to navigation and soundings for navigating Charleston Harbor.


The Society has also digitized the collection of plans on microfilm in Record Group 26. The microfilm is scratched and detail is often lost, but in some cases it provides the only copies of plans no longer available in their original format.

The scans of the finding aid of the main RG 26 lighthouse collection and those on microfilm from the National Archives are available to members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society conducting research at no charge.

The Society previously scanned the plans that ended up in their files. These are  available for browsing on their website along with historical photos and selected Light Lists.

As the Society’s historian, I am pleased to be working with Technical Expert Tom Tag to expand the Society’s digital archives. It is part of the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s mission to support lighthouse history and research and we are creating a central repository of lighthouse information in order to do this. If you have an interest in donating historical documents, plans, or photos to this effort, please contact me at <candace@uslhs.org>.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, October 21, 2016



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