The locations of lighthouses were chosen because of a specific need in that area, usually to guide ships to a particular harbor or warn them of local hazards. More specifically, site location was based on the type of lighthouse that was required and the type of lighthouse was often determined by its location. For example, lighthouses on the east coast of the United States were built well over 100 feet tall because the locations where they needed to be built were primarily flat with low elevations. On the other hand, lighthouses on the west coast of the United States were often not built to be very tall, because the sites chosen for their construction were already well above sea-level, giving them an overall height that sometimes reached hundreds of feet.
Another common factor in determining lighthouse sites was poor visibility attributed to foggy conditions. The Point Reyes Lighthouse in California, built on what is considered by many to be the foggiest place on Earth, was constructed down the side of a perilous rock peninsula to help guide passing ships safely by the cliffs. Similarly, the Sambro Island Lighthouse site was chosen to help warn mariners of the nearby dangerous shoals draped in heavy Nova Scotia fog, as well as to guide ships into the second-largest ice-free harbor in the world.
Frequent shipwrecks and the loss of lives such as those that occurred off the Northern California coast in the 19th and early 20th century were also a common factor in determining appropriate sites for lighthouses. The Punta Gorda Lighthouse, on the Northern California coast, was established in the early 20th century for no other reason than this, though today is stands hollow and alone, abandoned since the 1950s.
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