Lighthouse History 1874 – 1894 (Part I)

This second installment in the ongoing series on the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse begins with the construction of the current lighthouse in 1874 and takes us to the story of William Harn and his family, the first head keeper’s family to live in the current Keepers’ House.

Click here to read the first installment.

1874 – 1894: Designing a New Lighthouse

By 1874, the lighthouses popping up along the Atlantic Coast dwarfed the Old Spanish Watchtower. Because the effective range of a beacon increases as its height increases, replacing the old tower with a taller one solved the problem of eroding shorelines while improving visibility and safety along the St. Augustine coast. Placed more or less at sea level, Atlantic Coast lighthouses required significant elevation to ensure their lights were visible a sufficient distance.

As the Atlantic Ocean crept toward the old lighthouse foundation, the Lighthouse Board began planning for its replacement. Congress appropriated $60,000 to acquire land and build a new lighthouse. After purchasing a 5-acre tract a half mile from the old tower, the Lighthouse Board chief draftsman Paul Pelz submitted the new tower’s architectural design. Pelz would go on to gain fame as the designer of the Library of Congress.

In June of 1872, Hezekiah Pittee, as Superintendent of Lighthouse Construction, began work on the new tower. Funding shortfalls delayed the project and by 1873, Pittee only had 42 ½ feet of tower completed. Work wrapped up in 1874, with “the fittings of the oil and work rooms, casing the windows and doors, giving the outside of the tower another coat of color, and grading and paving around the tower” being the last few tasks before the tower was ready for service. The total cost of construction was $100,000. Continue reading

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum Hosts Annual Luminary Night, Dec. 3rd

In celebration of the holiday season, community members are invited to a free event featuring live music, kids’ crafts, holiday treats and over 1,500 glowing luminaries.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. –Local community members and visitors are invited to enjoy live music, hot beverages and holiday cheer at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum’s annual Luminary Night extravaganza on Wednesday, Dec. 3rd, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

photo 2Free to the public, this year’s holiday open house will feature performances by the St. Augustine High School Chamber Ensemble and Guitar Club, the Glad Melody Gang Recorder Group and the Anastasia String Quartet, whose Christmas melodies will exuberate from the walls of the lighthouse tower. The festivities will also include a bake sale, kids’ holiday crafts and an opportunity to visit with Santa Claus.

“This is one of our favorite events every year,” said Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming. “The Junior Service League started this tradition over a decade ago as a way to spread the joy of the holiday season to our local neighbors and thank them for supporting our museum. Now the event has grown into a city-wide celebration and we couldn’t be happier to share this joyous time of year with our community.” Continue reading

Lighthouse History Pre-1874

For 140 years, the St. Augustine Lighthouse has presented its beacon to sailors along the nation’s First Coast. It’s seen keepers and families come and go, witnessed the construction and removal of auxiliary structures, and adapted to new and innovative technologies, all while the community around it expands and evolves. This series of blog posts will explore that history, 20 (or so) years at a time.

Pre – 1874

The story of the current St. Augustine Lighthouse begins with its predecessor. The current lighthouse in St. Augustine is not the original St. Augustine Lighthouse. The Spanish constructed the tower that became the first lighthouse in 1737. They used a naturally occurring stone called coquina to construct the original tower. The coquina tower replaced wooden watchtowers the Spanish built dating back to the beginnings of Spanish Florida.

This post card shows the coquina tower after its conversion to a lighthouse.
This post card shows the coquina tower after its conversion to a lighthouse.

A map of Francis Drake’s 1586 raid on St. Augustine reveals the presence of a small tower on Anastasia Island. The map refers to the tower as “a Beacon or high scaffold standing on the sand hills, wherein the Spaniards did use to discover the ships at sea.” The coquina tower continued this watchtower tradition until the United States acquired Florida in the Adams-Onís Treaty (1821). The U.S. Government then set to work illuminating the newly added coastline.

St. Augustine, with its preexisting tower, was a logical place to start. In 1823, John Rodman, Collector of St. Augustine, wrote to Stephen Pleasonton, Fifth Auditor of the U.S. Treasury, that despite the tower’s presence, “…it was never built for a lighthouse or used as one, but merely a look-out-house. The location is well suited…but a great proportion of the tower, nearly one half, is not sufficiently strong to bear any greater elevation either if wood or stone work.” Congress appropriated $5,000 to retrofit and complete the lighthouse and awarded the contract to Elias Wallen who reported on March 25, 1824 that the lighthouse was operational and that Winslow Lewis fit the new beacon with “ten patent lamps and ten fourteen inch reflectors.” Continue reading

Model of 1871 Ship Fern Honors Important Part of Lighthouse History

A special ceremony on Friday morning, Nov. 14th, will honor craftsman Duane Muzzy and his contribution of an important new piece to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum collection.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA. – The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum will soon be able to illustrate an important part of the light station’s history thanks to a generous donation from local resident Duane Muzzy. Over the last several months, Muzzy has been building a scale model of the U.S. Lighthouse Service Tender Fern, a steamship that brought supplies in the St. Augustine Lighthouse in the late 1800s. On Friday, Nov. 14th, at 10:30 a.m., the museum will hold a small reception for museum members and invited guests celebrating the arrival and installation of the new ship model.

“Duane has put a lot of work into this beautiful ship,” said the museum’s Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming. “We are so thankful that he wanted to build this piece of history our museum. The Fern encompasses a great story that we are excited to share with our visitors and the local community.” Fern final 2 11-7-2014

According to the St. Augustine Light Station keepers’ logs, the Fern made supply trips from New York to St. Augustine once a year from 1874 to 1888. Records show the ship tied up at a dock on the Matanzas River, along the west side of Anastasia Island, and brought supplies to the lighthouse via rail cart. In 1891, the Fern was re-assigned to the U.S. Navy fleet where it remained in service until it sank off the coast of Canada in 1906. Continue reading

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum Hosts Volunteer Recruiting & Training Session

Volunteers interested in donating their time to preserve and present maritime history are invited to join the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum for a special recruiting and training session on Thursday, Nov. 13th.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA. – Volunteers are at the heart of every nonprofit organization, and at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum it is no different. Although the museum has a thriving base of more than 200 volunteers, more are always needed to assist with site shifts, visitor services, special events, academic research and a variety of other tasks.

IMG_7852On Thursday, Nov. 13th, the lighthouse will host a special recruiting and training session for new volunteers. The event begins at 2:30 p.m. with refreshments and a meet and greet with Volunteer and Special Projects Coordinator Loni Wellman. At 3:00 p.m., Wellman will lead a brief training session followed by a private tour of the museum grounds at 4:00 p.m.

“Our volunteer base is so important to us as a growing museum,” said Wellman. “We have so many opportunities for people of all ages and skill levels to become part of our museum. Whether you can volunteer for an hour each week or for one day a year, you can make an impact.”

Current volunteer openings at the museum include assistance with research and collections, special events support and visitor services opportunities. In exchange for donating their time, volunteers at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum are eligible for some special perks including a free museum membership, 20% discount in the gift shop and invitations to special events. Continue reading