According to the Florida Lighthouse Association, there are 30 historic lighthouses ringing the state’s coastline. Like other lighthouses throughout the country and world, many of the state’s lighthouses essentially have been made obsolete as navigational aids by technological breakthroughs. Therefore, there is a constant struggle to adequately fund their continued maintenance and repairs.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse is the crown jewel of Florida’s lighthouses and a prime example of an historic site living up to its full potential. First lit in 1874, the 165 foot tall brick tower has a coquina foundation. It is located on Anastasia Island, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and its namesake city a couple miles to the west. It was designed Paul J. Pelz, and his same plans were used for Bodie Island Light (1872) and Currituck Beach Light (1875), both in North Carolina.
The lighthouse keeper’s house was built near its foot in 1876, and it was occupied by the resident keeper until the lighthouse was automated in 1955. By the 1970s, the property was in sorry condition; the lighthouse was sealed and fenced off, and arsonists had destroyed the lighthouse keeper’s house. That’s when the Junior League stepped in. It oversaw the rehabilitation of the lighthouse keeper’s house into a maritime museum — completed in 1988 — with particular focus on the site’s usage to spot German U-Boats during World War II. The Junior League also leased the lighthouse from the Coast Guard and had it restored. It was relit in 1993. After passage of the National Lighthouse Act in 2000, the lighthouse was put into the hands of its namesake nonprofit.
Today the lighthouse offers more than just a workout to reach the observation deck. In addition to the aforementioned museum, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum is also home to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), an underwater archaeology group that studies the region’s shipwrecks. The museum offers a number of educational programs, and traditional wooden boatbuilding demonstrations are held on the grounds.
And, finally, like just about every other lighthouse in the world, St. Augustine’s is reputably haunted. (It was featured on “Ghost Hunters” twice.) The museum takes full advantage of its reputation and offers ghost hunts on weekend nights.
While the St. Augustine Lighthouse certainly benefits from its close proximity to a history-minded community, it shows just how all-encompassing an historic site can be.
Below are photos I took in a visit to the lighthouse in February 2011.