In a typical bureaucratic move, the Alabama Historical Commission has rejected a proposed plan by the Alabama Lighthouse Association to move the historic Middle Bay Lighthouse onshore to Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama.
Instead, they have proposed to spend $30,000 every year on maintenance to keep the lighthouse in the bay where it sits surrounded by water. Although this decision has delighted the Bar Pilots who use the lighthouse as a navigational aid and also some small boaters, the decision will severely limit public access to the lighthouse. In fact, because of this decision, it is highly unlikely that there will ever be public access to the lighthouse. Let’s face it – the lighthouse could easily be replaced by a buoy if it were to be moved to the mainland.
A spokesman with the Alabama Lighthouse Association said they welcome the opportunity to partner with the Alabama Historical Commission in preserving the lighthouse. While that may be the politically correct thing to say, I am sure they are disappointed and I hope that they will continue their efforts to change the minds of the Commission.
Quite frankly, it’s amazing that the abandoned lighthouse is still standing. The lighthouse no longer has its lantern room and its legs are rusting and have lost some of the strength needed to support the structure. Although it has survived storms and past hurricanes, this should not encourage complacency; one good storm or hurricane could easily mean the loss of the lighthouse.
The argument by the Alabama Historical Commission that the lighthouse would lose its historical significance if it were to be moved is total and absolute hogwash. Many lighthouses have been moved and none of them have lost their historical significance. Lighthouses similar to Middle Bay Lighthouse that have been moved are the Hooper Strait Lighthouse that is now a featured attraction at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland; the Drum Point Lighthouse that is now part of the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland; the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse that is now used by the Living Classrooms Foundation for educational purposes.
If the Alabama Historical Commission was truly concerned about saving the Middle Bay Lighthouse, they would allow it to be moved. This is typical of what is happening around the country today. Historical Commissions often make so many requirements for exact restoration or preservation efforts that it becomes nearly cost prohibitive to restore a structure. Apparently they would rather see a structure lost than saved under their frequent and overly stringent requirements. An example of this would be allowing the lantern room to be removed from the historic Middle Bay Lighthouse, which thereby altered the historical integrity of the building. While this was acceptable to these bureaucrats, moving the lighthouse to the mainland to save it and open it to the public for historical interpretation and educational purposes is not acceptable under their rules. This is unbelievable!
If the Middle Bay Lighthouse were moved to the mainland, people could learn more about the history of the lighthouse itself, the history of the United States Lighthouse Service, the history of the United States Coast Guard, and experience firsthand what lighthouse life was like on a screw-pile lighthouse, more so than can ever be learned by leaving the lighthouse out in the water. Let’s face it; how many school groups will ever be able to tour the lighthouse where it’s at now? The answer is obvious: None.
Perhaps it is time for the Alabama State
Legislature to pass special legislation that would override the Alabama Historical Commission thereby allowing the Middle Bay Lighthouse to be moved to the mainland where it could be properly restored and opened to the public. Or, perhaps the Congress of the United States should pass legislation that would revoke the deed to the lighthouse and turn the deed over to the Alabama Lighthouse Association. Either of these would however probably require petition drives and a massive letter writing campaign.
An alternative would be for the Alabama Lighthouse Association to build an exact replica of the Middle Bay Lighthouse on the mainland at Battleship Park. At least the public could learn about the lighthouse, its history and its historical significance to Alabama’s maritime history, something that cannot be done now.
Whatever the case, the members of the Alabama Historical Commission who voted in favor of keeping the Middle bay Lighthouse out in the water and spending $30,000 a year of taxpayer money to maintain the headless lighthouse, should all be ashamed of themselves, and the public should ask for their resignations.
This story appeared in the
March 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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