Lighthouse History 1874 – 1894 (Part II)

This third installment in our ongoing series on the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse continues the story of lighthouse keeper William Harn and his wife, Kate.
Click below to read previous installments of the series:
Lighthouse History Pre-1874
Lighthouse History 1874-1894 (Part I)

Charleston, SC 1860…

The presence of a (now) foreign army on their land was untenable for the newly independent South Carolina. Upon succession, US. Army Major Robert Anderson evacuated Fort Moultrie after sabotaging the military hardware there and relocated all troops to Fort Sumter, isolated as it was by its location on an island in Charleston Harbor. William Harn was among the Union troops at Fort Sumter, while Kate’s family stayed with her father, Ordinance Sergeant James Skillen at Castle Pinckney, another much smaller harbor fort.

Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor

On December 27, 1860, months before the “first shots of the war” occurred at Fort Sumter, state militia attacked Castle Pinckney and seized the fortification without a fight, there being only James Skillen and Lieutenant R.K. Meade of the engineers present to protest. Captain Abner Doubleday, second-in-command to Major Anderson, called it “the first overt act of the Secessionists against the sovereignty of the United States.”

In his Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-‘61, Doubleday recalled the moment when a South Carolina militiaman spotted Kate Skillen, then 15 years old, “weeping bitterly at the ramparts” following the fall of Castle Pinckney. After he assured her that they meant her no harm she replied, “I am not crying because I am afraid…I am crying because you have put that miserable rag up there,” referring to the Palmetto flag the militia raised in place of the American flag. Continue reading

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum Volunteer Receives State Award

Governor Rick Scott and Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman presented Sue Callaham with the Champions of Service award, recognizing her for donating over 2,000 hours to the museum’s educational and historical programs.

TALLAHASSEE, FL. – Amid thunderous applause, Governor Rick Scott and Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman honored six Floridians with the Champions of Service award at a state cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, Jan. 13th. Among the recipients of Florida’s only statewide recognition program for volunteerism was Sue Callaham, a ship modeler who has donated more than 2,000 hours of service at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum since becoming a volunteer in 2012.

ChampionsofServiceAward“Sue’s enthusiasm and initiative are invaluable as the lighthouse and museum continues to provide education opportunities for students, lead preservation efforts and provide a positive impact to the community,” said Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner as he addressed the assembly. Following Detzner’s speech, Scott, Spellman and state cabinet members presented Callaham and her fellow winners with their awards. Continue reading

New Markers Honor Important Aspect of Oldest Port History

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is one of many local heritage organizations supporting the recognition of African, European and Native American cultural history in the Nation’s Oldest PortSM through new markers placed at the Castillo de San Marcos and Mission Nombre de Dios.


In one of many commemorations of St. Augustine’s 450 year history, the St. Augustine Middle Passage Committee, the Black Catholic Commission of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and representatives of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission on Saturday, February 7, 2015, at the Castillo de San Marcos and at the Mission Nombre de Dios will honor African ancestors.

14092269089_2ba0fd6150_mAlong with supporting co-sponsors they will conduct a remembrance ceremony and install a marker celebrating the diverse settlement of St. Augustine and its African, European, and Native American cultural and religious heritage.

Middle Passage is the designation given to the transatlantic journey to the New World made principally by Africans captured to be sold into slavery in the Americas. They, along with Europeans, free Africans, and Native Americans, comprised the city’s earliest inhabitants since the 16th century. Continue reading

Museum Supports St. Augustine with $250,000 in Contributions

As we kick off 2015, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum reflects on its community impact over the last year and its plans to continue support in St. Augustine’s pivotal 450th year.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. – Although it’s known for being a famous fixture in the city skyline, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum provides more for the local community than just aesthetic appeal. In 2014, the museum contributed nearly $250,000 in in-kind gifts, donations and discounts to organizations in St. Augustine. From assisting other nonprofit organizations to supporting local businesses, the museum, its staff, volunteers and board members take pride in giving back to the community.

Keepers House“As a nonprofit museum, we not only serve to educate our guests about the great maritime history of St. Augustine, we also work hard to ensure that our resources are put right back into the local community,” said Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming. “Giving back is something that runs deep in our roots, going back to the Junior Service League, and the work that just 16 volunteers from the JSL did to restore the light station. It was a family and a community effort in a very real way.”

Although the museum is a private non-profit, it still shares close ties with the JSL and supports several of the group’s other projects including the Children’s Museum and Kids Bridge. In 2014, the lighthouse also donated time, funds or other resources to the St. Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation, Friends of Anastasia State Park, The Boys and Girls Club, Friends of Scenic A1A, Sea Turtles Hospital, Lightner Museum, Osceola Elementary, St. Joseph Academy, St. Augustine Youth Services and many other organizations throughout Northeast Florida.

The museum also partnered with the St. Johns County Education Foundation this past year to enhance its annual summer camp program.  Over 80 scholarships were offered to underprivileged students in St. Johns County for the museum’s summer and winter camps. The scholarships were funded largely by the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation, Sertoma Club of St. Augustine’s Steve Senecal Scholarship Fund and the Barbara A. Kay Foundation.

Support from the local community also helped the lighthouse bring nearly $950,000 in federal and state grants and appropriations to St. Augustine. These funds will provide for new research and educational programs to help preserve the city’s historic legacy.

“Historic preservationists are much more likely to hire locally or regionally, and being a good investment for state funding means creating jobs not just on our own site, but in the local businesses around us,” said Fleming. “Going into this pivotal year for the City’s 450th celebration, we are looking forward to strengthening our community ties and channeling our resources into helping St. Augustine and its residents enjoy this town that we all love.”



A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for over 140 years, the St. Augustine Light Station is host to centuries of history in the Nation’s Oldest Port. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)3 non-profit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest Port sm as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.  

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 below to read previous installments of the series:
Lighthouse History Pre-1874

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