Records of the U.S. Lighthouse Service
Originally under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department, the U.S. Lighthouse Service was responsible for constructing and repairing lighthouses, managing lighthouse vessels and personnel, and providing navigation assistance to vessels. The U.S. Coast Guard later assumed the duties of the Lighthouse Service. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) houses historical records of the U.S. Lighthouse Service in Record Group 26, Records of the United States Coast Guard.
The first lighthouse in the 13 colonies was built in Massachusetts in 1716. When the United States federal government was established, this lighthouse and eleven others in operation were placed under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Treasury.
Over the years the Lighthouse Service evolved to become first the Lighthouse Board under the Secretary of Commerce and Labor and later the Bureau of Lighthouses. In 1939 the Bureau merged with the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for all lighthouses and vessels previously in service under the Bureau.
Examples of Records
Records of the U.S. Lighthouse Service are found in Record Group 26, Records of the United States Coast Guard, and are housed at multiple NARA research facilities. The National Archives Catalog provides descriptions of these records and the custodial units that house them; see National Archives Identifier 10487794. For a list of NARA research facilities, please see Visit Us.
Select Lighthouse Service records at the National Archives in Washington, DC (Archives 1), are listed below. For questions about these records, please contact the Archives 1 Reference Branch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Correspondence Relating to the Appointment of Lighthouse Keepers, 1801–1852" (National Archives Identifier 2305958)
"Lighthouse Site Files, 1790–1930" (National Archives Identifier 628525)
Other NARA research facilities may have more detailed information about lighthouses or light stations located in the states they cover.
In addition to textual records, charts, blueprints, drawings, and photographs of lighthouses and light stations can be found within NARA's Cartographic Branch and Still Pictures Branch at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
Several series of lighthouse records have been microfilmed and are available to order or view at a NARA location. Please contact the location to confirm that they have the microfilm you wish to view prior to visiting.
Some frequently viewed microfilmed records related to lighthouses include:
Lighthouse Letters, 1792–1809 (Microfilm Publication M63)
Lighthouse Deeds and Contracts, 1790–1816 (Microfilm Publication M94)
Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845–1912 (Microfilm Publication M1373)