Aug. 7, 2014 at 7:05 AM ET
Standing alone on the nation’s shores, lighthouses may be America’s most ironic attractions: Initially built to keep travelers at a safe distance, they now attract millions of visitors who want to get as close as possible.
“They’re beacons of safety but they also have a romantic appeal,” said Jeff Gales, executive director of the U.S. Lighthouse Society. “I don’t know anybody who isn’t drawn to them.”
There are currently around 600 light stations — lighthouses that were historically accompanied by keepers’ houses, Gales said. That’s down from almost 1,400 in the 1930s when the U.S. Coast Guard began modernizing and automating the system.
To honor and preserve what’s left, advocacy groups have declared Aug. 7 National LIghthouse Day. Lighthouses across the country will host free events and special tours. For those seeking a more intimate experience, the U.S. Lighthouse Society maintains a list of 56 light stations that offer overnight accommodations. “Whether you love oceans, lakes or historical structures, they provide a unique experience for travelers,” said Gales.