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|Fascinating Facts about Great Lakes’ Lighthouses Scramble Squares®|
Navigation on North America’s inland waterways has been important to American settlement and commerce since the 17th Century, when colonial settlers first sailed passengers and cargo along the Hudson and St. Lawrence Rivers and built thriving new river towns along their banks. By about 1800, migrating Americans had crossed the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains and were making their way into the fertile lowlands of the Ohio River and Mississippi River valleys. The growing American population developed the St. Lawrence Seaway as an important trade route. This 2,500-mile seaway connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence River and a series of 6 short canals having a total length of less than 60 nautical miles and connected by 19 locks, enabling commerce to thrive between the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario and the American states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin.
When Robert Fulton demonstrated the possibility of steamboat travel in 1807 with the successful round-trip cruise of his “Clermont” from New York City to Albany, the inland waterways became seen as efficient avenues for commercial activity. The 371-ton steamboat “New Orleans,” financed by Fulton and Robert Livingston and built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, made her maiden voyage in November 1811 and reached New Orleans in January 1812, even surviving one of America’s most severe earthquakes at New Madrid, Missouri. To protect the greatly increasing number of vessels carrying passengers and goods on the Great Lakes, Canada and the United States negotiated the Rush-Bagot Agreement in 1817, and many new lighthouses were built on the Great Lakes.
On June 23, 1874, the U.S. Congress authorized expanding the jurisdiction of the Lighthouse Board to the Western rivers, establishing two new lighthouse districts, the 14th, which included the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers between Pittsburgh and New Orleans and the 15th, comprising the Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minnesota to Cairo, Illinois and the Missouri River from Kansas City to its mouth at the Mississippi River. This act provided for “establishment of such beacon-lights, day-beacons and buoys as may be necessary for the use of vessels navigating these streams.” By 1915 there were 1,798 lights and 861 buoys protecting navigation along the 4,226 miles of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and their tributaries. Nevertheless, navigation on the inland waterways and the Great Lakes of America can still be treacherous. In November 1975, the 720-foot freighter “Edmund Fitzgerald” sank with no survivors during a violent Lake Superior storm and still rests today in 530 feet of icy cold water on the bottom of this greatest of the Great Lakes.