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St. Augustine Light
St. Augustine Light - The St. Augustine Light tower was built in 1874.
The St. Augustine Light tower was built in 1874.
Location: Anastasia Island, Florida
Coordinates 29°53′08″N 81°17′19″W / 29.88556°N 81.28861°W / 29.88556; -81.28861Coordinates: 29°53′08″N 81°17′19″W / 29.88556°N 81.28861°W / 29.88556; -81.28861
Year first lit: first tower, 1824; second tower, 1874
Automated: 1955
Foundation: first tower, coquina; second tower, brick on coquina
Construction: first tower, coquina; second tower, brick
Tower shape: first tower, square tower; second tower, conical tower
Height: first tower, 52 feet; second tower, 165 feet [1]
Original lens: 1824: Winslow Lewis lamps with replectors; 1855: fourth order Fresnel lens; 1874: first order Fresnel lens
Range: 1874: fixed lamp, 19 miles; flashing lamp, 24 miles
Characteristic: prior to 1936, 3 minute fixed flash; in 1936 changed to 30-second flash
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
NRHP Reference#: 81000668

The St. Augustine Lighthouse is on the north end of Anastasia Island, within the current city limits of St. Augustine, Florida. The tower, built in 1874, is owned by the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, Inc. (SAL&M), a not-for-profit maritime museum and private aid-to-navigation. Open to the public, admissions support continued preservation of the Lighthouse and fund programs in maritime archaeology and education.



St. Augustine was the site of the first lighthouse established in Florida by the new, territorial, American Government in 1824. According to some archival records and maps, this "official" American lighthouse was placed on the site of an earlier watchtower built by the Spanish as early as the late 16th century.[2] The Map of St. Augustine depicting Sir Francis Drake's attack on the city by Baptista Boazio, 1589, shows an early wooden watch tower near the Spanish structure. By 1737, Spanish authorities built a more permanent tower from coquina taken from a nearby quarry on the island. Archival records are inconclusive as to whether the Spanish used the coquina tower as a lighthouse.

As the British took control of St. Augustine from Spain in 1763, in exchange for Havana, Cuba, the new government acted quickly to use the coquina watchtower as a light aid-to-navigation. In 1789, the Spanish once again took control of St. Augustine, and once again the lighthouse was improved. British engineer and Marine surveyor, Joseph F.W. Des Barres marks a coquina "Light House" on Anastasia Island in his 1780 engraving, "A Plan of the Harbour of St. Augustin." Jacques N. Belline, Royal French Hydrographer, refers to the coquina tower as a "Batise" in Volume I of "Petit Atlas Maritime." The accuracy of these scholars is debated still; Des Barres work includes some obvious errors, but Belline is considered highly qualified. His work provides an important reference to St. Augustine's geography and landmarks in 1764. Facing erosion and a changing coastline, the old tower crashed into the sea in 1880, but not before a new lighthouse was lit. Today the tower ruins are a submerged archaeological site whose smooth stones may still be seen at low tide.

The 1824 lighthouse was established on the site of the Old Spanish watchtower.

Early lamps in the first tower burned lard oil. Multiple lamps with silver reflectors were replaced by a fourth order Fresnel lens in 1855, greatly improving the lighthouse's range and eliminating some maintenance issues.

At the beginning of the Civil War, future mayor Paul Arnau a local Menorcan harbor master, along with the lightkeeper, a woman named Maria De Los Delores Mestre, removed the lens from the old lighthouse and hid it, in order to block Union shipping lanes. The lens and clock works were recovered after Arnau was held captive on a ship off-shore until he revealed their location.

By 1870 beach erosion threatened the first lighthouse. Construction on a new light tower began in 1871 during Florida's reconstruction period. In the meantime a jetty of coquina and brush was built to protect the old tower. A trolley track brought building supplies from the ships at the dock.

The new tower was completed in 1874, and put into service with a new first order Fresnel lens. It was lit for the first time in October by keeper William Russell. Russell was the first lighthouse keeper in the new tower. He was the only keeper to have worked both towers.

For 20 years the site was manned by head-keeper William A. Harn of Philadelphia. Major Harn was a Union war hero who commanded his own battery at the Battle of Gettysburg. With his wife, Kate Skillen Harn, of Maine, he had six lovely daughters. The family was known for serving lemonade out on the porches of the keepers' house, which was constructed as a Victorian duplex during Harn's tenure.

On August 31, 1886 the Charleston earthquake caused the tower to sway violently, according to the keeper's log, but there was no recorded damage.

After many experiments with different types of oils, in 1885 the lamp was converted from lard oil to kerosene.

During World War II, Coast Guard men and women trained in St. Augustine, and used the lighthouse as a lookout post for enemy ships and submarines which frequented the coastline.

In 1907 indoor plumbing reached the light station, followed by electricity in the keeper's quarters in 1925. The light itself was electrified in 1936, and automated in 1955. As the light was automated, positions for three keepers slowly dwindled down to two and then one. No longer housing lighthouse families by the 1960s, the Keepers House was rented to local residents. Eventually it was declared surplus, and St. Johns County bought it in 1970. In that year the Keepers' house suffered a devastating fire at the hands of an unknown arsonist.


In 1980 a small group of 15 women in the Junior Service League of St. Augustine (JSL) signed a 99-year lease with the county for the keeper's house and surrounding grounds and began a massive restoration project. Shortly after the JSL adopted the restoration, the League signed a 30-year lease with the Coast Guard to begin a restoration effort on the lighthouse tower itself. The lighthouse was subsequently placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 due to the efforts of local preservationist and author Karen Harvey.

The antique lens was functional until it was damaged by rifle fire in 1986 and 19 of the prisms were broken. Lamplighter Hank Mears called the FBI to investigate this crime. As the lens continued to weaken, the Coast Guard considered removing it and replacing it with a more modern, airport beacon. Again championed by the JSL, this plan was dismissed and the 9 foot-tall lens was restored. Joe Cocking and Nick Johnston, both retired from the Coast Guard, worked tirelessly to perform this, the first restoration of its kind in the nation. These two experts work with Museum staff and continue to care for the lens. Volunteers from Northrop Grumman Corporation and Florida Power & Light clean and inspect the lens and works every week.

Today, the St. Augustine Light Station consists of the 165-foot 1874 tower, the 1876 Keepers' House, two summer kitchens added in 1886, a 1941 U.S. Coast Guard barracks and a 1936 garage that was home to a jeep repair facility during World War II. The site is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station.

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum

Visitors' Center
View from the top
Panoramic view from the top

In 1994 the Lighthouse Museum of St. Augustine (SAL&M) opened full time to the public. A community-based board of trustees was created in 1998. The men and women of the volunteer board are charged with holding the site in trust for future generations. In 2002, under the direction of current Executive Director Kathy Fleming, ownership of the tower and historic Fresnel lens was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard through the General Services Administration and the National Park Service to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, Inc. This was the first such transfer of a U.S. lighthouse to a non-profit organization.

The SAL&M preserves local maritime history, keeps alive the story of the nation's oldest port, and connects young people to marine sciences as it seeks to build self-esteem, develop civic pride, and change lives in meaningful ways. The museum board and staff also work to help save other lighthouses in Florida and across the nation, coordinating efforts with several federal agencies and volunteer groups such as the Florida Lighthouse Association. The Lighthouse employs around 30 individuals, and is visited annually by over 180,000 people including 54,000 school-aged children.

The museum maintains an active archaeological program (Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, or LAMP) that researches maritime archaeological sites around St. Augustine and the First Coast region. Staff archaeologists have discovered a number of historic shipwrecks and investigated many others, along with other maritime sites such as breakwaters, plantation wharf remains, and the remains of Florida's first lighthouse. The museum also researches boatbuilding and the history of the local shrimping industry, and maintains a growing collection of World War II artifacts focusing on the history of the U.S. Coast Guard in St. Augustine. The Keeper's house is used to display a series of exhibits related to these various aspects of St. Augustine's maritime history.

Today, it is the Museum that keeps the light burning as a private aid-to-navigation in America's oldest port city. Without the museum staff and volunteers the light would go dark.

Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP)

The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, as part of its ongoing mission to discover, present, and keep alive the maritime history of America's oldest port, has funded maritime archaeology in St. Johns County waters since 1997. In 1999, the Lighthouse formalized its archaeology program, creating the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP). LAMP is one of the few research organizations in the nation employing full-time professional marine archaeologists and conservators that is not a part of a university or government entity. This unique organization has produced a body of research contributing both to the Museum's educational and interpretive programs, and has provided information for an under-represented but critical component of St. Augustine's history.

LAMP's founding Director was William "Billy Ray" Morris, who oversaw archaeological research and educational programs until his departure in 2005. In March 2006, underwater archaeologist Chuck Meide took over control of the organization as its new Director, with the assistance of the Director of Archaeology Dr. Sam Turner.

To date the oldest shipwreck discovered in St. Augustine waters is the sloop Industry, a British supply ship lost May 6, 1764 while attempting to make port with munitions, tools, and other equipment for the garrisons in Britain's recently acquired colony of Florida. Artifacts from the wrecksite—including eight cast-iron cannon, an iron swivel gun, crates of iron shot, iron mooring anchors, millstones, and boxes of tools such as axes, shovel blades, knives, trowels, files, and handsaws—were amazingly preserved and provided an unprecedented glimpse into the needs of British soldiers and administrators on the Florida frontier. Many of these items were recovered and conserved by LAMP archaeologists, and are now on display in the maritime museum in the Lighthouse keeper's house.

LAMP has also excavated two historically significant 19th century wrecks: a wooden-hulled steamship, and a centerboard schooner. The identities of both wrecks remain unknown, but the study of their remains has led to a greater understanding of the economic and technological evolution of St. Augustine at the dawn of modernity. The latter shipwreck carried a cargo of cement in barrels which was probably intended for the city's late 19th century building boom, associated with industrialist entrepreneur Henry Flagler. In addition to these and other shipwrecks, LAMP has also investigated a wide variety of archaeological sites representing St. Augustine's Spanish, British, and Early American periods. These include British plantation landings, community boatyard foundations, ferry and steamboat landings, ballast dump sites, colonial wharves, and inundated terrestrial sites. Current work includes the implementation of the First Coast Maritime Archaeology Project, a comprehensive program of research and outreach focusing on the waters around St. Augustine and elsewhere in northeast Florida. This project was funded from 2007-2009 by a historic preservation grant awarded by the state of Florida.

Reports of paranormal activity

Looking down the staircase of the lighthouse.

The lighthouse and surrounding buildings have a long history of supposed paranormal activity. Allegedly, visitors and workers have seen moving shadows, heard voices and unexplained sounds, and seen the figures of two little girls standing on the lighthouse catwalk (who purportedly were daughters of Hezekiah Pittee, Superintendent of Lighthouse Construction, during the 1870s; the girls drowned in a tragic accident during the building of the tower). Other reports are of a woman seen on the lighthouse stairway or walking in the yard outside the buildings, and the figure of a man who roams the basement.[3]

Stories like these have led The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) to the scene where they shot an episode of the SciFi Channel show Ghost Hunters. During this episode, TAPS claims to have captured a few mysterious incidents on video in the lighthouse such as a disembodied voice of a woman crying "help me" and a shadowy figure was supposedly recorded on video moving about the stairs above them.[4]

Due to the success of the first investigation, TAPS later returned for a follow-up investigation and experienced similar incidents.

The lighthouse offers "Dark of the Moon" tours where visitors can tour the site at night, and get the real facts about the history of those who have died on the site, though no ghosts are promised.[5]


Additional reading

U.S. Coast Guard Archive

External links



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