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.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida

     St. Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent, is affectionately called the Old City. Don Juan Ponce de Leon discovered La Florida, the “Land of Flowers," in 1513 for Spain. Roughly fifty years later, Spain made a serious attempt at colonizing Florida, when Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles was dispatched to the area. Menendez arrived off the Florida coast on August 28, 1565, the Feast Day of St. Augustine, and soon the fledgling colony of St. Augustine was established.

     Near St. Augustine the Matanzas River empties into the Atlantic, flowing past barrier islands named Anastasia and Conch. On the northern end of Anastasia Island, several towers have been built through the years overlooking the inlet that leads to St. Augustine. Early on, the Spanish constructed a wooden lookout tower. Later, a more permanent tower was built using blocks of coquina that was formed as large deposits of shells were cemented together over time by calcium carbonate. Spain ceded control of Florida to the English in 1763 to regain control of Cuba. However, under the 1783 Treaty of Paris, control of Florida was returned to the Spanish, who controlled Florida until they relinquished it to the United States in 1821.

     As St. Augustine was the leading port in the newly acquired Territory of Florida, the U.S. Government worked quickly to establish a light to mark the inlet. John Rodman, the customs collector at St. Augustine, proposed that the old Spanish tower be converted into a lighthouse. However, after a thorough inspection, the tower was deemed unsound, and a new tower was built nearby. The old tower might have served as a lighthouse temporarily, but in 1824, the new brick tower, rising to a height of seventy-three feet, was placed in service.

    The lighthouse was outfitted with a fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1855, increasing the light’s range. In 1859, Keeper Joseph Andreu fell 60 feet to his death while whitewashing the tower. Joseph's wife, Maria de los Dolores Mestre Andreu, took over as keeper and served until the light was extinguished shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War.

     The tower remained dark until after the conflict ended, and by that time, it was clearly evident that erosion was endangering the tower. A coquina breakwater was hastily built to retard the encroaching sea. Still, it was determined that a new lighthouse was needed and a five-acre tract, located a half-mile inland, was acquired.

     Plans for the new lighthouse were drawn up by Paul Pelz, Chief Draftsman of the Lighthouse Board and who would later be one of two architects responsible for designing the Library of Congress. Construction on the lighthouse began in 1871, but the walls had grown to a height of just a few feet when funds were exhausted. Work resumed after additional funding was obtained, and the lighthouse commenced operation on October 15, 1874. The tower was built using brick from Alabama, granite from Georgia, iron work forged in Philadelphia, and a first-order Fresnel lens crafted in France. The small building attached to the base of the tower originally housed a keeper’s office on one side and an area for storing the large drums of lard oil, used in the lighthouse’s lamp, on the other. When the light was converted to kerosene in 1855, a new oil house was built a safe distance away from the tower to contain the more volatile fuel.

      While work was underway on the new tower, the Lighthouse Board submitted the following report: "A keeper's dwelling will be required, as there are not sufficient or proper accommodations at the old lighthouse for three keepers and the distance is too great from the new tower to insure proper attendance, even if the present dwelling were suitable." The keepers continued to live at the old lighthouse until a duplex, built just east of the new lighthouse, was finished in 1876.

     Constructing the new lighthouse proved to be a prudent move as the old tower toppled into the sea on August 22, 1880.

     With three keepers stationed at the lighthouse, the day was divided into three eight-hour watches. The primary responsibility of the keepers was to care for the light, which required lugging a 30-pound can of lard oil up the tower’s 214 stairs and periodically winding up the 275-pound weight that revolved the lens. In addition, the keepers maintained all the station’s buildings, provided tours to visitors, and when necessary even served as lifesavers. This later function is demonstrated by the following two entries from the station’s logbook:

    Schooner Dream went on sand bar near old lighthouse at 3 AM. Nine passengers rescued by keepers. Lost anchor, sails, and small boat. Vessel floated off in damaged condition.
November 13, 1890

    At 5 PM, the steamer Star Spangled Banner foundered on the bar. A total wreck. Crew were rescued by keeper.

     Life at the station was full of varied activities for the keeper’s children as well. One noted story involves Cardell "Cracker" Daniels, son of keeper C.D. Daniels. Cracker would regularly use the tall tower in his backyard as a launching pad for his model airplanes and parachutes. After safely parachuting several inanimate objects off the tower, Cracker decided it was time for a live experiment. Cracker’s sister, Wilma, had a cat named Smokey, who was selected as the paratrooper. After a couple of practice descents from lesser heights, the reluctant cat was tossed from the top of the tower with the parachute strapped to its back. When the frightened feline reached the ground, it quickly fled from the area. Unaware of Cracker’s antics, Wilma searched far and near for her cat over the next several days. It was about a month before Smokey finally returned home, but it wasn’t until several years later that the family learned the real reason for the cat’s disappearance.

     The keeper’s dwelling was electrified in 1925, but the tower was not wired up until 1936. Electricity lessened the keeper’s responsibilities, eventually leading to the de-staffing of the lighthouse in 1955. Local lamplighters were employed to keep an eye on the light, and the dwelling was rented out for several years. Full automation of the light occurred around 1971, when a sun relay was installed atop the tower to activate and deactivate the light.

     In the late 1960’s the dwelling was boarded up, declared surplus and put on the auction block. St. Johns County was negotiating the purchase of the dwelling when it was completely gutted by an arson’s fire on July 28, 1970. The fire did reduce the purchase price, but made restoring the structure a daunting task. The county considered tearing down the dwelling, but the Junior Service League of St. Augustine, founded in 1935 by a group of women interested in improving social, educational, and cultural conditions of St. Johns County, offered to take on the restoration project in 1980. Eight years later, the dwelling was opened as a maritime museum. The Junior Service League next signed a lease with the Coast Guard for the lighthouse, and by 1994 the tower was fully restored and opened to the public for climbing.

     In 1986, bullets shot from a 30-06 rifle shattered nineteen prisms in the historic Fresnel lens. Hank Mears, then caretaker of the light, called the FBI. During the ensuing investigation, powder burns were discovered on a nearby palm tree. The FBI did find the person responsible, but the senseless act put the lens out of commission. An airport beacon was placed atop the tower, while the options of removing the lens or repairing it were debated. Fortunately, a grant was obtained, replacement prisms and bulls-eye panels were recreated, and the lens resumed operation.

     *The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum was incorporated as a separate entity from the Junior Service League in January 1998. A new visitors’ center was added to the site in 2000 to help accommodate the large crowds who come to learn about the lighthouse and to climb to the top of the tower for the expansive view. The lighthouse was awarded to St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum in 2002 under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.

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