Ah, the lonely life of the lighthouse keeper. In the heyday of sailing, long before automated beacons steered ships away from treacherous shores, brave men and women were asked to take up a secluded life devoted to watching the seas from their, often remote, outposts.
Those days are mainly gone, although many of the lighthouses still remain. Without even a human presence to give them a sense of life, many of the world’s forgotten lighthouses are now just lonesome relics. Despite how bleak they can seem, these lighthouses manage to have a haunting beauty all their own, that makes the life of an old lighthouse keeper seem strangely romantic to this day.
1. STROMBOLICCHIO LIGHTHOUSE
Sitting atop a rocky volcanic crag in the Tyrrhenian Sea is the Strombolicchio Lighthouse. Built in 1905, the remote lighthouse sits atop the exposed chimney of a former volcano, an island unto itself. A part of the famed Aeolian islands, which the Greeks believed were the home to the god of the winds. Visitors can hike up to lighthouse itself, but be warned the trip is somewhat perilous.
This old Welsh lighthouse is the last of its kind, but what a lovely survivor it is. Located off the coast of the Gower Peninsula, the cast-iron beacon was built back in 1865. It remained in service until 1920, when a newer lighthouse took over the Whiteford stations duties, but the metal tower stayed in place, abandoned and rusting. Today the Whiteford Lighthouse seems like a setting from the video game, Myst, but the only mystery in this lighthouse is why more people aren’t amazed by it.
3. POINT SUR LIGHTSTATION
Big Sur, California
What is it about giant volcanic boulders that makes us want to build light houses on top of them? Here was have another example of a frozen bit of volcanic geology that is home to an incredibly remote station. Built in the late 1800s after a ship dashed itself against the rocks near Point Sur, the light station was hard to reach and kept the light house keepers who ran it, extremely isolated. That is until 1972 when the Coast Guard automated the light, and full-time keepers were no longer needed. Today it is the only complete turn-of-the-century lighthouse in California open to visitors.
4. TURTLE ISLAND
This fortress-like lighthouse on the Port of Toledo has been abandoned for over a hundred years, but still stands sentinel on its tiny island. The Turtle Island lighthouse was first built in the 1830s on a small spit of eroding land. By the 1880s the little lighthouse had been shored up into its current fortress-like state, and breakwaters were put in place to keep the erosion at bay. Unfortunately the lighthouse was abandoned a few years later in 1904, and has remained empty ever since. Today the island is privately owned and no plan for rehabilitation has stuck.
5. ST. GEORGE REEF LIGHTHOUSE
Crescent City, California
This 12-story lighthouse off the California coast was expensive to build, and even drove some workers mad, but it has saved countless lives by warning ships off from a treacherous patch of rocks. Finished in 1891, the lighthouse was built right into one the reef rocks. A number of workers lost their lives constructing it and life as a keeper of the property wasn’t much safer—at least five keepers died on the job. It wasn’t until 1975 that the lighthouse was finally taken out of service, replaced by a buoy. Friends of the deadly lighthouse have tried to save the site with funds generated by helicopter rides, but this too has been shut down, and the St. George Reef Lighthouse remains empty and deadly.
6. ANO NUEVO ISLAND
Technically the only thing that remains on this tiny island is the house, since the light itself collapsed long ago. However, the site is far from empty. Año Nuevo Island was at one point connected to the mainland, but rising sea levels buried the land bridge and created the island. Both a lighthouse and a mansion had been built on the property but fell into disrepair after they were abandoned by humans. However the island then became home to thousands of seals and sea lions that now use the island as a breeding ground. The lighthouse tower was torn down in 2000 as it was threatening to fall and injure the animals, but the keeper’s house the mansion can still be seen on the site.
7. KLEIN CURACAO
The abandoned island of Klein Curaçao is not only home to an abandoned lighthouse, but to a number of the ships it failed to save. The little island is no longer inhabited save for a few fishermen’s huts, but the remains of the lighthouse and wrecks of boats along its shores make it look more than a little haunted by tragedy. The island is also frequented by vacationers from nearby Curaçao who come for the diving, and wander about to experience the amazing ruins.
8. EARHART LIGHT
Amelia Earhart was supposed to make a stop on Howland Island to refuel her airplane, but unfortunately, she would never make this scheduled stop. The beacon was created in 1937, but after Earhart’s mysterious disappearance during that same flight that would have seen her stop on the island, interest in the spot dropped considerably and the light was extinguished, turning the abandoned tower into a daybeacon. Today the island is a wildlife refuge.
Correction: This article previously noted the Strombolicchio Lighthouse as being in the Pacific Ocean. This has been updated to reflect its correct place in the Tyrrhenian Sea.