Guard Islands, a pair of small, rocky islets, stand sentinel over the northern entrance to Tongass Narrows, which leads south to Ketchikan. Atop the larger of the two islands sits Guard Island Lighthouse, one of the most accessible lighthouses in Alaska. Its history is brief but eventful, much like the history of Alaska itself.
Purchased in 1867 for $7,200,000, Alaska was quite a bargain at roughly two cents an acre. Because much of it was considered an uninhabited arctic wasteland, many decried the acquisition as foolish, but thirty years later the discovery of gold precipitated a boom no one could have anticipated.
For years Native Americans and Russian fishermen, hunters, and traders had plied the waters near Ketchikan, and countless lost vessels attested to the dangers of the shallow inlets and dense fog. Although only two years after the US acquired Alaska the Senate requested a review of the Northwestern coasts to determine suitable spots for lighthouses, funding was not provided for another thirty years. Several day beacons and buoys were installed as minor aids to navigation, but it wasn’t until the Gold Rush, triggered by the 1896 discovery, that private citizens, and traders clamored loudly enough for the Lighthouse Board to receive funding for much-needed light stations.
Some speculated that Congress dragged its feet in the hope that private enterprise would provide necessary development; possibly the naysayers who viewed Alaska as the country’s largest white elephant prevented federal funds being diverted to it. Whatever the cause for the delay, in 1901 Congress finally appropriated $100,000 for lighthouse construction, ushering in an Alaskan building boom that lasted two years and resulted in eleven lighthouses, with five more constructed in later years.
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