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Restoring Our Nation's Lighthouses | A beacon of light and trust

Lands’ Friendly > Lighthouse Initiative

For those familiar with our company's history, you already know our maritime legacy. Lands' End has always been connected to the water. A leading global fashion retailer, Land's End was launched as a mail order operation for yachting gear. To celebrate that heritage, Lands' End has a history of supporting lighthouse restoration. In fact, to this day the company logo uses the image of a lighthouse.

There's another reason to support restoring our nation's lighthouses – the company's sustainability initiative, "Lands' Friendly." The preservation of historic treasures and sustainability are closely linked.

In partnership with the United States Lighthouse Society, Lands' End has funded the renovation of three lighthouses:

The Beacon of the Bay
The Boston Light
The Block Island Southeast Lighthouse
The Beacon of the Bay

The Alcatraz Island Lighthouse continues to function, guiding ships coming through the Golden Gate Bridge into the San Francisco Bay area. But the lighthouse itself needed a major facelift.

Lands' End invested in the renovation to preserve the lighthouse for future generations as a navigation guide and for enjoyment by visitors. Alcatraz is a popular tourist destination, attracting 1.3 million visitors each year. Tourists visiting San Francisco often stay an extra day to see Alcatraz Island, known for both the lighthouse and shuttered federal prison.

Built in 1854, the lighthouse was the first on the West Coast – visible 18 miles out to sea. The lighthouse was rebuilt following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Then 57 years later in 1963, the island's prison closed, and the United States Coast Guard automated the lighthouse's operation.

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The lighthouse on Alcatraz Island is 94 feet tall. Inside, 124 winding stairs lead to a landing near the top. From there, a ladder with eight rungs leads through a tiny crawl space onto the very top where an automated LED light blinks in silence every five seconds around the clock. From this vantage point, the 360 degree views of the surrounding San Francisco Bay are breathtaking.

But most people never get to take in this remarkable scene. Out of safety concerns, the lighthouse is closed to the general public. The reasons for such caution are evident: the glass block windows in the walls of the stairwell are cracked, indicating that the tower has shifted and swayed over the past 106 years. Paint is peeling and plaster walls are chipped. The safety railing around the tower's top is rusting and the privileged visitor is cautioned not to lean on it, lest it give way.

Built in 1909, the Alcatraz lighthouse is in need of a complete overhaul. Which is why Lands' End is working in partnership with the U.S. Lighthouse Society, the National Park Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, to fund an important historical structures study – the critical first step in restoring this historic lighthouse. The study will determine two things: what condition the lighthouse is in and what steps must be taken to restore it.

"Alcatraz is so much more than a prison," says John Cantwell, ranger from the National Park Service. Spend a day on the island and it becomes clear just how much more there is to "the Rock." In addition to the lighthouse and famed penitentiary, there are fortifications dating back to the Civil War.

Alcatraz takes its name from the Spanish phrase, "La Isle de la Alcatraces," which translates as "The Island of the Pelicans." While pelicans no longer nest there, the island plays host to 1.3 million visitors per year, making it the number one landmark destination in the U.S., according to Trip Advisor.

The current lighthouse replaced the 1854 original, the first on the West Coast. The clean lines of its design were "influenced by the Art Deco movement, which was in its infancy at the time," according to Jeff Gales, Executive Director of the U. S. Lighthouse Society. The Alcatraz lighthouse was the first poured reinforced concrete lighthouse ever built, making it architecturally significant.

Gene Grulich, an architect specializing in the restoration of historic buildings, led this critical study. He noted that while the reinforced concrete structure is superior to the brick and mortar design some older lighthouses employed, it was built before our current day concerns about earthquakes.

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The Boston Light

Boston Light is the nation’s oldest working lighthouse. First lit more than 300 years ago on September 14, 1716, the lighthouse is old enough that Benjamin Franklin wrote about it in a poem when he was only 12 years old.

Built by the British, Boston Light opened in 1716. In 1776, it was destroyed by British troops during the Revolutionary War. When the war ended, the lighthouse was rebuilt and improved so that its beam could be seen for 27 miles. For 300 years and counting, this lighthouse has been a true beacon of light and trust, guiding sailors and shippers to safe passage as they approached Boston Harbor.

This structure became a National Historic Landmark in 1964. Working with the Lighthouse Society, the National Park Service and the Coast Guard, Lands’ End is committed to making sure this structure remains open to the public and serves the harbor for another 300 years.

Lands’ End funded the renovation of Boston Light’s boat house, which included resurfacing the light tower and replacing the roof on the light keeper’s house.

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On a sun-drenched summer's day in 2016, the elegant 97-foot yacht, Valiant, took a group of lighthouse enthusiasts and supporters of lighthouse preservation on a delightful cruise on Boston Harbor and deep into America's past. They came together to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Boston Lighthouse, and to kick off an exciting project to restore this iconic structure's boathouse.

Funded by Lands' End, the restoration effort was administered by the United States Lighthouse Society (USLS) in partnership with nonprofit Boston Harbor Now, The National Park Service, and the United States Coast Guard.

The day of the celebration, the guests heard from a number of speakers including Jeff Gales, the executive director of the USLS; Kathy Abbott, CEO of Boston Harbor Now; Commander Brad Kelly of the Coast Guard; Dr. Sally Snowman, the keeper of Boston Light; and Eric Jay Dolin, author of Brilliant Beacons, A History of the American Lighthouse on their way to and from the lighthouse. But the highlight of the day was debarking on Little Brewster Island, and having the opportunity to visit the lighthouse and the surrounding structures, including the boathouse, which will benefit tremendously from Lands’ End’s gift, the initial installment of which is $30,000.

Boston Light is not only the first lighthouse in the nation, but also one of the most fascinating. Initially lit on September 14, 1716, it has had more than its fair share of misfortune. The first keeper of Boston Light, George Worthylake, had been on the job a scant two years when he, his wife, Ann, and one of their daughters, Ruth, drowned within sight of the lighthouse as they were returning to Little Brewster Island after a brief trip to town. This event shocked the residents of Boston, and led a twelve-year old Benjamin Franklin to pen “The Lighthouse Tragedy,” a poem commemorating the drownings.

Two of the three temporary keepers, sent to replace Worthylake until a new, permanent keeper could be found, also drowned very close to the island. And in the ensuing decades, a series of fires damaged the lighthouse tower. The most serious blow to ever befall the lighthouse, however, came during the American Revolution.

The Revolutionary War Comes to Boston Harbor

Lighthouses do not distinguish between friend and foe. After the skirmishes of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress recommended that Boston Light be darkened, so that the British Navy couldn’t use the light to safely navigate into and out of the harbor. So, on July 20, 1775, Major Joseph Vose of the Continental Army led a raid on Little Brewster Island. A mini whaleboat armada took off from Nantasket Peninsula in Hull and rowed to the island where they surprised the British marines guarding it. They torched the wooden parts of the lighthouse, and took furniture, whale oil, boats and a cannon. Although British forces from nearby ships chased the Americans, they made it back to Hull with only two men wounded.

Since the British believed that the lighthouse was critical to their plans to lay siege to Boston, in a little more than a week they had it repaired and shining again. This didn’t sit well with the newly appointed commander of the American forces, George Washington, who ordered another attack on the lighthouse. On July 30, Major Benjamin Tupper led 300 soldiers in a small whaleboat armada to the island, where a bloody battle broke out, leaving six British marines dead. Tupper and his men torched the lighthouse again and, with the British in pursuit, made it back to Hull, sustaining only one fatality.

This time the damage was far worse than the first raid. And it took the British nearly four months, until the end of November 1775, to repair the lighthouse and have it shining again. But that was not the end of the story.

The Siege of Boston finally ended in 1776 when royal troops and the bulk of the Royal Navy retreated and sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on March 17 — forever after celebrated by Bostonians as Evacuation Day.

A few warships, however, remained in the vicinity of the lighthouse to warn other ships coming from Britain that the army had departed. The continued British presence infuriated the Americans, and on June 14, Continental Army troops fired cannons and mortars at enemy ships from batteries on Long Island, while other troops fired on them from Nantasket. This barrage forced the remnants of the British fleet to put to sea, but before they left, British marines landed on Little Brewster Island.

Recognizing the lighthouse’s strategic value to the insurgents, the British torched it and left a keg of gunpowder at its base. Then they returned to their ships along with the lighthouse guards. Less than an hour later, at eleven in the morning, the keg’s fuse hit its mark. The Boston Light blew up, turning it into “a heap of rubbish” in the words of one eyewitness.

The current Boston Light is the second lighthouse built on the island, completed in 1783, and increased in height, to 89 feet, in 1859.

For 300 years, Boston Light has kept countless ships from wrecking, saved untold lives, and has contributed mightily to the growth and prosperity of Boston and the nation. It’s only appropriate that after all of those years of serving others, many organizations are now working together to preserve this brilliant beacon so that it cannot only continue as an active lighthouse, but also remain one of the most cherished historical sites in the nation.

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The Block Island Southeast Lighthouse

The U.S. Lighthouse Society has assisted in the restoration and preservation of America's lighthouses for 30 years. With a donation from Lands' End, the Block Island Southeast Lighthouse was saved. The lighthouse is a U.S. National Historic Landmark located on the Mohegan Bluffs at the southeastern corner of Block Island, Rhode Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Built in 1874 in the ornate Victorian style of the time, it helped ships clear the dangerous shoals and ledges of the "stumbling block" of the New England coast. Over time, the bluffs eroded and the lighthouse itself needed a rescue. The 2,000-ton structure was moved 300 feet back from the cliffs in 1993. After the move, the United States Coast Guard could not reinstall the original mercury float lens, and used a substitute lens instead. Through the donation from Lands' End, the original light was restored.

This restoration represents Lands' End's commitment to sustainability along with a dedication to keep maritime treasures alive and well for future generations to enjoy.

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Two lighthouses were built on Block Island, Rhode Island in the 1800s to protect mariners from shipwrecks. The island, dubbed "the Bermuda of the North," was difficult to navigate due to dense fog and shallow water. The island itself is located 12 miles south of Rhode Island and 15 miles northeast of the southern tip of Long Island, NY.

The Southeast Lighthouse is a red brick structure built in 1874 for $75,000 (more than $1.5 million in today's dollars) with a 52-foot tower and fog signal on a 10-acre plot of land on the Mohegan Bluffs. The push to build the lighthouse came from a merchant named Nicholas Ball who petitioned the Lighthouse Board, calling out the dangers of the Block Island coast. The lighthouse was equipped with a first order Fresnel lens custom made by Barbier and Fenestre of Paris for $10,000 (or $200,000 in today's dollars). The lighthouse stood 201 feet above water with a light range of 21 miles. President Ulysses S. Grant attended the lighthouse's commissioning and posed for a photo with the lighthouse's first keeper, Henry R. Clark. The lighthouse displayed its first light on February 1, 1875.

Light keepers lived in the facility for many years and among their duties was acting as first responders to accidents. Before the light was automated, the lighthouse employed a total of 31 keepers and assistant keepers over the years. The U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse service in 1939.

Exposed to years of extreme weather and cliff erosion, the lighthouse faced numerous structural issues and even near destruction.

Extensive Renovations to the Rescue

The Block Island Southeast Lighthouse Foundation was formed in 1983 to save the lighthouse, which was a treacherous 55 feet from the edge of the bluffs and in danger of falling into the ocean due to erosion. The foundation worked for nearly 10 years to raise the $2,300,000 needed to move the lighthouse. Half the money came from a federal grant, and half came from selling land. On August 13, 1993, the move began with the assistance of the Army Corp of Engineers. It took 19 days to move the lighthouse to stand 300 feet from the bluff, the original distance from the cliffs when the lighthouse was first built. The lighthouse's first order Fresnel lens had been retired in 1990 when The Coast Guard removed the mercury due to safety and environmental issues. The lens was replaced with a first order lens from the Cape Lookout Lighthouse in Beaufort, North Carolina. The Block Island Southeast Light glowed again on August 27, 1994 and was officially named a National Historic Landmark in September of 1997.

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A beacon of style

Your favorite lighthouse can be embroidered on our classic tote. Choose from these nine limited edition lighthouse logos and we'll donate $4.50 to the preservation of that lighthouse.

Call or Text 1-800-963-4816 to order.