On Aug. 7, exactly 229 years ago, the newly created nation of the United States got serious about helping sailors just off its shores.
That's when Congress passed an act to establish lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers — an occasion now observed as National Lighthouse Day.
Of course, America had lighthouses long before then. Records show that in 1673, only three years after Charles Towne was founded, someone raised a metal pan on Morris Island, filled it with pitch and set it on fire at night.
Lighthouses would grow in sophistication and importance throughout the following centuries, at least until the last one. South Carolina saw many built along its shores (and sometimes destroyed and rebuilt).
While they're largely obsolete in the age of GPS units, they still stir feelings as prominent landmarks of a not-so-distant past.
As with lighthouses across the country, South Carolina's have been transitioning from their original navigational role to more of an attraction: That's even why the newest ones have been built.
They are witnesses to a bygone era but their preservation also will offer a sense of place for generations to come.
Here's a look at them:
Hunting Island Lighthouse
Jane Tinsley from Greenville sat in her chair with her fan at the bottom of the Hunting Island Lighthouse on Beaufort County's coast.
She smiled as she greeted guests to take their tickets before they climbed the 132½-foot, black-and-white pillar. She has been a volunteer for South Carolina State Parks for the past 12 years.
“I love lighthouses, I like their stature and their history," she said. "All lighthouses are painted differently so in the daylight a ship out in the ocean would be able to tell that this lighthouse was the Hunting Island Lighthouse.”
The island's original lighthouse was built in 1859 out of cast iron made into sections, but it later was moved about 1¼ miles inland to its current location.
People like to visit lighthouses for the thrill that you can go up so high, Tinsley said. From the observation deck, a person can see anywhere up to 40 miles toward the horizon, depending on the weather.
The lighthouse is popular, one of the few in South Carolina regularly open to visitors.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Tinsley greeted visitors from California, West Virginia — even a family from Poland.
Addison Owens, 5, from Kingsport, Tenn., climbed the lighthouse for her first time with her parents Josh and Laura Owens. Addison said it was very tall and scary and would never do that again.
Maci Allen traveled down from West Virginia with a few of her friends to climb the 162 steps to the top. After taking a selfie with them, she said, ”It’s pretty awesome up here.”
Morris Island Lighthouse
The Morris Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1876, but was replaced by the Charleston Light on Sullivan’s Island in 1962. The landmark still survives, despite severe erosion on Morris Island that has left the brick tower in shallow water offshore. Its foundation has been shored up, and more restoration work is planned.
When Al Hitchcock was in the market for a house 30 years ago, he was drawn to one in particular on James Island that had a view of the lighthouse from the backyard.
“Once we lived here, we used to go out to the lighthouse,” Hitchcock said. It was then that he and his wife noticed that no one was taking care of it. Several years later, Hitchcock, along with a few neighbors and several Folly Beach residents, formed Save The Light, a nonprofit aimed to preserve, protect and bring awareness to the landmark.
Hitchcock said the lighthouse is an icon for Folly Beach and that a lot of people come to the old Coast Guard Station to see it. “It’s absolutely breathtaking to look out there on the surf.”
Most people view it from the former Coast Guard Station on the eastern side of Folly Beach, now a Charleston County park site. Tourists flock there to take selfies with the lighthouse in the background, while locals value it as a fishing spot.
“You can tell anybody, ‘I’m at the lighthouse’ and they know exactly where you’re at,” said Jason Ayers of West Ashley, adding he spends almost every weekend there. "It’s awesome. It’s cool. But I’m mainly here for the fishing,” he said.
Hitchcock said the next phase in Save The Light’s project is to restore the tower. Once they raise another $5 million, they plan to restore the glass, paint the tower, and fix the interior stairs.
“Every morning when I wake up, I look out to be sure it’s still standing,” he said. “It’s still standing because of this group, Save The Light.”
To find out more information or to get involved, visit SaveTheLight.org.
Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse
The Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse replaced the Morris Island lighthouse in 1962. The Coast Guard chose the new location partly because of its historic importance as being the site of the only U.S. life-saving station in South Carolina.
Three aspects of this lighthouse make it nationally unique: It was the last lighthouse the federal government built; it's the only U.S. lighthouse with a triangular tower (to make it more wind resistant); and it's also the only one with an elevator that goes to the top.
But not all of its new innovations received a warm welcome. Its original light burned so brightly that residents living miles away complained. It was dimmed substantially but still can be seen 27 miles out to sea, according to the National Park Service.
The original orange-themed paint job on the Sullivan’s lighthouse also was unpopular with residents, so it was changed to its current black-and-white scheme.
The National Park Service acquired the property in 2008 and opened its grounds Saturday to observe National Lighthouse Day.
Hilton Head and Daufuskie lighthouses
The famous red-and-white lighthouse along the 18th hole at the Harbour Town Golf Links was dressed plaid and white with a large gold-colored "50" earlier this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the RBC Heritage golf tournament.
The lighthouse itself was completed in 1970, privately built as part of Harbour Town Yacht Basin and Sea Pines Plantation. The structure is 114 steps to the top standing at 90 feet tall with nine platforms and an observation deck on the edge of Calibogue Sound.
A gift shop at the bottom of the lighthouse sells $4.50 tickets to those interested in climbing the steps to the gift shop at the top, where a rotating light is seen.
Also on Hilton Head Island is the Leamington Lighthouse. The skeletal tower stretches 95 feet and was in service until 1932. The former lightkeeper's house was moved to Harbor Town.
On Daufuskie Island between Hilton Head and Savannah are two more historic lighthouse sites: The wooden Haig Point light was completed in 1873 with a 40 feet tower, and the island's atypical two-story Bloody Point light began service in 1883.
Cape Romain Lighthouses
A 6-mile boat ride from McClellanville are the two historic Cape Romain lighthouses on the remote Lighthouse Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The conical red brick lighthouse is 65-feet-tall and dates to 1827. The octagonal 150-foot tower went into service in 1857 and was decommissioned in the 1940s.
Unlike many lighthouses, which were positioned to encourage mariners to steer toward them to find safe harbor, the Cape Roman lighthouses were built to warn ships about the region's shallow shoals.
Tommy Graham, a McClellanville contractor and lighthouse buff, has kept tabs on the lighthouses' condition and the need for any repairs.
The Wildlife Refuge offers a tour to Lighthouse Island to see the historic lights four times a year, beginning with a presentation on the history of the towers at the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center.
The next tour is in September.
Georgetown and Grand Strand lighthouses
The Georgetown Lighthouse rests on North Island at the entrance to Winyah Bay. The island is one of three barrier islands owned by former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey before being bequeathed to the South Carolina Heritage Trust.
Construction began in 1799, and the Georgetown Light was lit in 1801. Its conical tower rises about 85 feet. The stairs inside are cut from solid stone.
Like the Harbor Town lighthouse, the Governor's Lighthouse in Little River was built not as an official government project to serve as a navigational aid. It opened in 1984 on private property in a residential neighborhood. It's accessible only to community residents and their guests.