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History's first great lighthouse was also its tallest. Built in about 280 B.C. on
an island in the bustling harbor of Alexandria, the Pharos tower reached 450 feet into the skies
of ancient Egypt. Its light, produced by a fire kept blazing on its roof, could probably be seen
from up to twenty-nine miles out in the Mediterranean. Mariners needed the Pharos Light because
Alexandria stood on the flat Nile Delta, and there were no mountains or other natural features
to help them find the city.
Ancient peoples had long made a practice of banking fires on hills and mountainsides to bring
their sailors home from the sea. With its artificial mountain, Alexandria pulled in seamen from
the entire known world. The delta city became the busiest and most prosperous port in the world,
and it remained so for almost 1,000 years. Trading ships from Greece, Carthage, and Rome flocked
to the city's wharves to load up with the grain grown in wondrous abundance in fields along the
banks of the Nile. The sight of the Pharos Light burning far up near the dome of the sky must
have filled the breasts of countless sea captains with awe.
The American South also has a proud city named Alexandria, and it, too, is a port. Like the
first Alexandria it was once the heart of a rich agricultural region. Today, it is a wealthy
suburb, located just across the Potomac from the nation's capital. In fact, Alexandria was
included within the original boundaries of the District of Columbia, but its citizens preferred
to cast their lot with agrarian Virginia. At Alexandria's Jone's Point, some five or six miles
down the Potomac from the city of Washington, is a stone marking one of the corners of the old
ten-mile square federal district.
Also at Jones Point stands a small, rectangular building with whitewashed wooden walls, a
pitched roof, and a porch. Probably no more than twenty feet high, its appearance suggests a
nineteenth-century country schoolhouse. Except for the tiny lantern protruding from its roof,
one might never guess that it had anything in common with the Pharos tower of ancient Alexandria.
But it does. It is a lighthouse.
Although it has been inactive for decades, the Jones Point Light guided ships into Alexandria,
Washington, and Georgetown for more than half a century. Built in 1855, it can now claim distinction
as the nation's oldest standing inland lighthouse. In counterpoint to its gargantuan ancestor in
Egypt, it is also among the world's smallest lighthouses.
The South has many other lighthouses, some much older the the Jones Point Light. While none reach
the extraordinary height of the ancient Pharos tower, many of them are very tall indeed. Built on
flat, mostly featureless headlands, they have to be tall to serve effectively as sea marks. The
Pensacola Lighthouse rises 160 feet above the Florida sand; the Cape Charles Light in Virginia
stands 180 feet above the water; and the Hatteras Tower, the tallest brick lighthouse in America
soars 193 feet above the Outer Banks.
The above text is from Southern Lighthouses by Roberts & Jones