Category Archives: Lighthouse History

229th US Coast Guard Birthday celebrated Aug. 4, 2019

Established on August 4, 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard has kept the nation’s waterways safe, playing a critical role in national security. Every year, August 4 is celebrated as the U.S. Coast Guard Birthday, commemorating the military organization for its valor and discipline.

Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, founded the Revenue Marine — which later became the U.S. Coast Guard.

A US Coast Guard retired fog bell in front of the 1876 Keepers’ House at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

The Coast Guard is one of America’s five armed forces and traces its founding to Aug. 4, 1790, when the first Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws, prevent smuggling, and protect the collection of federal revenue. Responsibilities added over the years included humanitarian duties such as aiding mariners in distress.

The service received its present name in 1915 when the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form a single maritime service dedicated to the safety of life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.

The Coast Guard is a multi-mission, maritime, military service and the smallest of the five Armed Services. Its mission is to protect the public, the environment and U.S. economic interests in the nation’s waterways, along the coast, on international waters, or in any maritime region as required to support national security.

US Coast Guard coasties are shown at the St. Augustine Light Station in front of the Coastal Lookout Quarters in the 1940s during World War II.

1940-1945

A Coastal Lookout Building was constructed at the St. Augustine Light Station in late 1941-early 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. However, life had not changed dramatically on the East Coast. Americans still felt a sense of separation the war. The sinking of the SS Gulf America off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida in April 1942 changed that feeling. Candlepower in the lighthouse was reduced. Blackout curtains were required in every home, and cars drove without headlights. The war was close by.

A US Coast Guard Training Center was created in St. Augustine, Florida during World War II, based out of Flagler College (formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel). IN THE PHOTO: Coasties are shown at the Castillo de San Marcos (fort) during a training exercise.

U-Boat 123, Korvettsenkapitan Reinhard Hardegen was on his second patrol to the Americas. The mission was to interrupt British supply lines and demoralize everyday citizens. On his first journey, he sailed into the harbor of NYC and looked out at the American shoreline. Now, Hardegen prowled the St. Johns County and Duval County coast before finding a target for his torpedoes.

He mentioned “the slender lighthouse” in his logbook, and noted how clearly the coast could be seen without binoculars. The explosion of the SS Gulf America could be seen for miles. Eyewitnesses rushed to the beach to watch as Hardegan surfaced his U-boat between the tanker and the shore and fired on the vessel to finish it off. Despite being hit by depth charges, U-123 managed to escape and limped back to Germany.

US Coast Guard coasties at the training center at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida during World War II.

Not long after in June 1942 German spies from Operation Pastorius choose Ponte Vedra (and New York) as landing sites. A submarine surfaced in view of the shore and four men disembarked, buried explosives, and caught a bus to Jacksonville. At least one of them spoke perfect English. The FBI learned of the operation when one of the NYC team became nervous and reported the others. Buried on Ponte Vedra beach were blocks of TNT molded as soap for the laundry, a “pen” that could start fires, and a detonation device. The four spies from Ponte Vedra were executed within weeks of landing.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Women’s Reserve, known as SPARS, was the World War II branch of the USCG Reserve. It was established by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 23, 1942. IN THE PHOTO: SPARS at the training center in St. Augustine, Florida, taken in May 1944.

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard responded with beach patrols using Jeeps, horses and guard dogs. Armed guards were stationed at St. Augustine Lighthouse to watch the sea 24 hours a day. The passing of each friendly ship was marked with a board and a string. Coordinates were radioed to U.S. Naval Headquarters at Government House, and the next watch station was alerted. The men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard, trained at St. Augustine’s Flagler College and all over St. Johns County for service around the world.

Thousands of veterans’ artifacts are preserved in collections at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. More details at www.staugustinelighthouse.org/explore-learn/collections-conservation/

Visitors honor their loved ones in the US Coast Guard or other military branches with engraved bricks, which support the nonprofit Museum and help preserve the rich past of the St. Augustine Light Station. Find out about bricks and naming opportunities here: staugustinelighthouse.org/get-involved/museum-difference-makers/bricks-naming-opportunities/

New Florida License Plate features artist rendering of Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse – available Aug. 9

This new Florida license plate depicting the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse will be available starting Aug. 8, 2019 at VisitOurLights.org or your local tag office. Funds raised go to the Florida Lighthouse Association, which aids in preservation and restoration of Florida’s 29 remaining historic lighthouses.

Revenues assist in the saving and restoration of Florida’s beloved beacons

JUPITER, FL – Images of Jupiter’s beloved, iconic Light are everywhere, and now a very special one is coming to a Florida Tax Collector’s office near you.  On Aug. 9, the Department of Motor Vehicles will offer official ‘Visit Our Lights’ Florida Lighthouses’ specialty license plate with a redesigned look featuring an original artist rendering of Palm Beach County’s Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.

For nearly a decade, the plate has featured the Florida’s first light, the St. Augustine Lighthouse. The Florida Lighthouse Association (FLA) board of directors, who created the original plate, decided in 2017 to change the artwork to feature another of the sunshine state’s sparkling lights. The vote fell to the Jupiter Light for its national significance and local popularity. The beautiful rendering was created by Master Artist Lise Yust who passed away in 2018. The artist said the sunset was inspired by one she had seen from her home in Englewood, Florida. Graphic designer Dan Spinella with Artworks Florida assisted in the completion of the project.

FLA is an all-volunteer based 501c3 charity whose mission is to safeguard Florida’s remaining lighthouses for future generations by supporting community-based restoration, preservation and education efforts. FLA from funds rose through the VisitOurLights.org specialty plate program and other efforts has given to-date $818,298 in grant money for the preservation and restoration of Florida’s 29 remaining historic lighthouses.

“We owe a lot to our historic beacons and their keepers who have saved countless lives over the last century and a half of their existence. By purchasing these specialty plates, you are not only helping to preserve a beautiful part of our history, you are honoring the lighthouses and their keepers who gave their lives to protect our local mariners during times of peace and war,” said Sharon McKenzie, Chair of the FLA Marketing Committee and Executive Director for both Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum and recently restored Gasparilla Island Lighthouse.

The Loxahatchee River Historical Society (LRHS) was recently awarded a grant through the FLA for its upcoming major repainting project, caring for the interior and exterior of the 1860 Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. Through the license plate funds, LRHS was awarded $24,000 towards its fall ‘Paint the Light’ project.

“Nothing makes me happier than knowing that residents around the state will enjoy this beautiful artwork of the Jupiter Lighthouse while contributing to helping care for and save Florida’s coastal gems,” states Jamie Stuve, President & CEO of the Loxahatchee River Historical Society.

As an active aid-to-navigation and Palm Beach County’s oldest structure, the condition of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse tower is always a daily critical concern for the historical society on. The historical society has balanced providing more access to visitors each year with careful historic preservation so that future generations may experience the climb to the top and enjoy all that Lighthouse has to offer.

“While we adore the Florida license plate depicting the St. Augustine Lighthouse, we are thrilled that the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse is featured on the new license plate,” said Kathy Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“With this new plate, we hope that awareness will increase about the importance of saving Florida lighthouses and we continue to share the stories of our maritime past.”

This Florida license plate depicting the St. Augustine Lighthouse is available through Aug. 7, 2019, and can be used for 10 years. The new Florida license plate depicting the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse will be available starting August 8, 2019.

To learn more about the Florida Lighthouse Association visit www.floridalighthouses.org

To learn more about the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum visit www.jupiterlighthouse.org

Visit staugustinelighthouse.org to learn more about the nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

Facts About Florida Lights:

Lighthouses played a critical role in Florida’s history; making it possible to explore, settle and develop Florida by using its 1350 miles of coastline (second only to Alaska in states with longest coastline).

Only 30 lighthouses remain today.

A 2002 study done by the State of Florida estimates that it will take almost $20 million dollars to preserve all of Florida’s historic towers.

NEW Keeper Tours & Nation’s Oldest Port® Demos at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum!

Guests to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum can now learn even more about the maritime history of our area. New Nation’s Oldest Port® Demos reveal stories about daily life of a St. Augustine Lighthouse Keeper, how sailors navigated the seas before GPS, and how our Lighthouse Archaeologists discover artifacts underwater on shipwrecks – along with other maritime topics during these interactive and fun experiences.

St. Augustine Lighthouse Keeper Jason Smith stands on the front lawn of the Keepers’ House in front of the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse tower. New Keeper Tours offers a walk with Jason or Keeper Rick Cain for a one-hour behind the scenes experience.

“Guests can now customize their visit to the Museum through a wide variety of location, theme and time options, making their experience more meaningful to them,” said Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretive Division at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“These fun demos create memories and a connection to the historic site and the region’s maritime heritage that will last a lifetime. We love this new opportunity to engage with our visitors!”

Archaeologist Allyson Ropp demonstrates Tools of the Trade, a Nation’s Oldest Port® Demo
at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

Visitors also can take a walk with one of our Lighthouse Keepers (Rick Cain and Jason Smith) and learn about Lighthouse history on a behind the scenes tour. New Keepers’ Tours are held at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; and at 10 a.m. Wednesdays. The one-hour tours are $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors and children under 12. Reservations can be made by calling 904-829-0745 or ask in the gift shop.

Nation’s Oldest Port® Demos are included with the cost of admission to the nonprofit Museum. The educational and interactive programs run each half hour from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the grounds. See the list of demos below.

Find out if you could handle being the keeper of the St. Augustine Lighthouse in the late 1800s on the Bucket Challenge, a Nation’s Oldest Port Demo that demonstrates and discusses daily life of the St. Augustine Lighthouse keepers.

Regular admission fees to the Museum are $12.95 for adults; $10.95 for seniors and children under 12; and free for children less than 44 inches (unable to climb the tower). St. Johns County residents with ID can pay for one day and receive a pass for a complete calendar year. Membership packages also are available. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Memorial Day, then 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week during summer.

For more details about the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, visit staugustinelighthouse.org or call 904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at facebook.com/staugustinelighthouse, Instagram.com/stauglighthouse, and twitter.com/firstlighthouse

During the new Nation’s Oldest Port Demos at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, guests can learn how sailors navigated the high seas and inland waters before GPS, radar and accurate maps during a demo called Dead Reckoning.

New Nation’s Oldest Port® Programs

  • Dead Reckoning: Learn how sailors navigated the high seas and inland waters before GPS, radar and accurate maps.
  • Tools of the Trade: Discover how early boatwrights bent and shaped wooden beams and made waterproof craft.
  • Sailor Lingo and Superstitions: Hear common and not-so-common phrases and words that were a matter of life and death aboard ship.
  • Bucket Challenge: Find out if you could handle being the keeper of the St. Augustine Lighthouse in the late 1800s at this fun program that demonstrates and discusses daily life of the keepers.
  • Improv at the St. Augustine Lighthouse: Help your docent decide what stories to tell from Lighthouse past and be surprised by what you hear!
  • Lighting the Way: See how lighthouses throw light 19-25 miles out to sea and learn the importance of lighthouses to early shipping and navigation.
  • Finding Shipwrecks and Why They Matter: Learn how archaeologists search for and find shipwrecks buried under the ocean floor and discover why these nonrenewable resources are important.
  • Stories from Beneath the Waves: Working underwater in low visibility offshore of St. Augustine, archaeologists often document shipwrecks using only their sense of touch. Try your hand at this and “see” how knowing the artifacts and their location on the shipwreck reveal stories not otherwise known.
  • That’s an Artifact? Uncover more stories in the lab and find out how artifacts unlock the secrets of shipwrecks and the people onboard.

For additional information, visit www.staugustinelighthouse.org