CREDITS: I would like to thank Jeremy D'Entremont for providing much of the history one can find on this site. He is a speaker, author, historian, and tour guide who is widely recognized as the foremost authority on the lighthouses of New England. For a story on Jeremy or to visit his site (New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide), use the corresponding link in the right hand information bar under "Related Links".

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I have set up this site as a means to share my photographs of lighthouses. Since retiring and finding more time to study photography, my interests have expanded a little. For some of my work other than lighthouses please enjoy my Facebook page at, John Shaw Photography. Come visit, enjoy, and 'LIKE' if you wish.

Also, for your enjoyment, I have provided a slideshow of our journey. To view it please use the link on the right under 'Site Navigation Tools'.

I sincerely hope you enjoy my efforts and use my site not only for information and education but also to provide directions for many enjoyable, inspirational visits to the beacons along our beautiful coas.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Ponce De Leon Lighthouse Near Daytona Beach in Florida

     Author Stephen Crane published his Civil War masterpiece The Red Badge of Courage in 1895, three decades after the conclusion of this divisive conflict. In 1896, an editor provided Crane an opportunity to experience battle firsthand by covering the budding rebellion in Cuba. While en route to the island aboard the 123-foot S. S. Commodore, which was carrying a load of firearms, Crane was shipwrecked off the Floridian Coast near Daytona Beach during a gale. Abandoning the sinking vessel, Crane, the captain, and two sailors, set out in a small lifeboat. Providently, the lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet marked the distant coast for the hapless quartet. Still, the group had to endure twenty-seven hours of frantic rowing and frequent bailing before they were able to bring their craft safely to shore. Crane’s story on the Cuban conflict would have to wait, but the harrowing hours spent in the lifeboat provided an alternate firsthand experience that would develop into his most successful short story “The Open Boat.”

     Stephen Crane and his companions were certainly not the first to be served by the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse, and the tower whose beacon they saw was not the first to stand over the area. Mosquito Inlet served as the exit point for two rivers: the Halifax River to the north and the Hillsborough River, later named the Indian River, to the south, and several plantations in the area relied on the inlet to carry their cotton, rice, and oranges to distant ports. In 1830, William DePeyster authored a petition to Congress signed by thirty-eight other plantation and ship owners from Mosquito County relating that they “were suffering in considerable privations, and difficulties, in the trade to this quarter in consequence of there being no Light House at Mosquito Inlet.” Congress responded with funding for a lighthouse on the southern side of the inlet, and on October 31, 1834 Winslow Lewis was awarded the contract for its construction. A 45-foot, conical, brick tower and a dwelling were hastily completed by the end of February 1835 at a cost of $7,494.     

    The first keeper, William H. Williams didn’t have much work to do, for the government had failed to provide oil for the eleven lamps in his lantern room. During a violent storm in October 1835, the dwelling was washed into the inlet and the foundation of the tower was undercut. Soon thereafter, the station also suffered the effects of the Second Seminole Indian War when a raiding party visited New Smyrna and ravaged the lighthouse. It is reported that Chief Coacoochee procured one of the reflectors from the lantern and used it in his headdress during the Battle of Dunn Lawton fought near the lighthouse. This is unlikely, as the reflectors were swept out to sea in the October storm, but the Seminole leader might have found a reflector that had washed up on a nearby shore. Repair work on the crippled tower was not possible during this time due to the troubled relations with the Native Americans, and the lighthouse eventually collapsed in April of 1836.

     The Florida legislation sent a resolution to Congress on February 8, 1847 requesting a new lighthouse for Mosquito Inlet. This request, however, was not acted upon, and the matter would not be revisited until after the Civil War. The Lighthouse Board’s annual report of 1870 stated that the level of commerce passing through Mosquito Inlet did not by itself justify a major light, but since the inlet was positioned roughly at the center of the 110-mile stretch of unlit coastline between the St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral Lighthouses, a lighthouse at the inlet that would serve as both a coastal and a harbor light was merited. The board’s request that same year for $60,000 to construct the lighthouse was not funded.

      The Lighthouse Board repeated its request for a lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet each of the next four years, but to no avail. In 1882, the request was renewed, but now the estimated construction cost had risen to $200,000. Congress finally relented, but it did not supply the funding in one lump sum. Rather, payments were painfully strung out over the next five years, hampering work on the light station.

     A site for the lighthouse was selected on the north side of the inlet to prevent the southward moving inlet from claiming a second tower. Orville E. Babcock, chief engineer of the sixth lighthouse district, was to oversee construction of the lighthouse. Tragically, on June 2, 1884, the vessel transporting Babcock to shore overturned, and he drowned in the inlet.

     Jared Smith assumed responsibility in Babcock’s stead, and work on the project soon commenced. Over a million bricks would be used to construct the lighthouse, which slowly grew to its preordained height of 175 feet, six-and-a-half inches from the ground to the tip of the lightning rod. The only taller brick lighthouse in the country is Cape Hatteras. A brick foundation, extending twelve feet below ground, supports the massive tower which consists of an inner and outer wall connected by spoke-like interstitial walls. The outer wall tapers as it rises, while the inner wall maintains a constant twelve-foot diameter, leaving room for the 194-step, circular stairway. 

       Originally, a multi-family residence was considered for the station, but instead, separate dwellings were built for the head keeper and the two assistants to afford them more privacy. The station is beautifully laid out in the shape of a cross, with the head keeper’s dwelling built at the end of a brick walkway directly east of the lighthouse, while the first and second assistant keeper dwellings are symmetrically positioned north and south of the walkway. The largest dwelling is a square structure with a chimney rising from the center of a double-hipped roof, and, of course, it belonged to the principal keeper. The identical assistant keeper’s dwellings are rectangular with chimneys at each end of the pitched roofs. A brick woodshed with attached privy was built behind each of the dwellings, and a large oil storage building was later added just north of the tower.

     When the tower was completed, a first-order Fresnel lens, constructed in 1867 by the Parisian firm of Barbier and Fenestre, was assembled in the lantern room. The lens was somewhat unique in that the landward side of the lens was composed of three concave reflecting panels. The light was exhibited for the first time on November 1, 1887, by head keeper William Rowlinski, who had most recently served as first assistant keeper at the Cape Romain Lighthouse.

     Rowlinski served at the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse for just over six years, but even with the separation provided by the detached residences, he still did not get along with some of his assistant keepers. The disputes escalated to the point that the Lighthouse Board swapped Rowlinski with the head keeper at Georgetown, South Carolina. Thomas Patrick O'Hagan thus became the second head keeper at Mosquito Inlet. O’Hagan arrived at the station with his wife and four kids. When he was transferred to Amelia Island twelve years later, his posterity numbered eleven.

     Though accurate, the name Mosquito Inlet proved a deterrent to increased settlement in the area. To correct this problem, the name was officially changed to Ponce de Leon Inlet in honor of the famed explorer, and the lighthouse became the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse.

      The lighthouse was electrified in 1933, and the first-order Fresnel lens was replaced by a third-order lens relocated from the discontinued Sapelo Lighthouse in Georgia. This new lens rotated producing six flashes in a fifteen second period followed by a fifteen-second eclipse. The Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in 1939 and kept a crew at the station until the lighthouse was fully automated in 1953.

    After automation, the station dwellings sat unoccupied until the Town of Ponce Inlet was incorporated in 1963 and began using one of the assistant keeper’s dwellings as a town hall. The Coast Guard abandoned the lighthouse in 1970 in favor a steel skeletal light tower located at their station on the south side of the inlet. At the urging of concerned residents, the Town took over the deed to the property, and the citizens formed the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association to manage the facility.

     The third-order lens was removed from the tower in 1971 and shipped to the Coast Guard Academy Museum in New London, Connecticut. After a museum was established at the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the third-order lens was returned for display. When in 1982 a newly constructed high-rise condominium obscured the light at the Coast Guard station, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse was outfitted with a modern optic and reactivated.

     The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is one of the finest light stations in the United States and merits an extended visit. The dwellings now house exhibits on the lighthouse keepers and families. Even the modern redbrick gift shop is historically significant as it was constructed using the plans for the multi-family dwelling that was never built. A lens exhibit building was constructed on-site in 1995 and now houses the revolving first-order lens from the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. In 2003, the fixed first-order lens originally used in the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse was also placed on display, after it was returned by Mystic Seaport. Two smaller replica lenses are also on display.

     The station’s historical value continues to grow thanks to the tireless efforts of the preservation association. The third-order Fresnel lens was placed back in the lantern room in 2004, providing the public a rare chance to see an active, revolving, Fresnel lens. The lighthouse’s connection to the past was further strengthened when the wreck of the S.S. Commodore, which had carried Stephen Crane, was located and artifacts retrieved from the wreckage placed on display at the station. The lighthouse continues today as a Private Aid to Navigation, maintained by the museum's staff.

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