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It’s Electric!

Twin Lights in 100 Artifacts #8- Power House


Lighthouses are commonly known for their towers and the lights they carried, but keeping a good light also required additional out-buildings. A wooden-framed and clapboard Power House was constructed in 1898 to house the necessary equipment to produce electricity here on site. At that time, there was no power-grid in Highlands, and each business or home wealthy or prominent enough to partake in the new electrical revolution also required its own generating station.


Source: Walt Guenther Collection


The picture above, dated between 1902 - 1909 shows the original powerhouse, alongside other notable structures such as the oil house, stables, navy wireless cottage, and early fences. It also proudly advertises the new Hornsby-Akroyd Engines, the first commercially successful diesel engines. The 25 HP engines used at Twin Lights were among the largest manufactured at that time. Only one engine was required to turn the power producing dynamo on the other side of the room, with the other engine and dynamo held in reserve in case of mechanical failure.


After roughly a decade in service, the wooden framed powerhouse needed significant maintenance. It was determined in 1909 that a new powerhouse was the best solution and the present structure was constructed brick-by-brick with the engines still in service. Such was the importance of the high powered electric light in the tower, that it could not be done without – even for a night.


This photograph, playfully titled “The Gang,” shows both to lighthouse keepers families and the new powerhouse in the background.


The powerhouse ceased to be used for its original purpose in 1917 when the Lighthouse Board determined that it was too costly to replace the aging equipment. The lamp at the top of the tower was switched to an incandescent oil vapor lamp. Only a few short years later, with the arrival of a proper electrical grid in town in 1924, the lighthouse once again shone out brightly – but this time with three 500-watt bulbs. The faithful Hornsby-Akroyd Engines were broken down for scrap in 1927 and the powerhouse converted into a garage and workshop. Today it is home to displays on the 2nd Order Fresnel lens and the power plant needed to keep the nation’s brightest light running.