Category Archives: Lighthouse History

Unique research, conservation and visitor lab space opens at St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

Museum opens new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center as part of the progress of the Maritime Heritage Park

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – On Thursday, September 28th the Museum celebrated a project twenty years in the making with the opening of a new building that houses an education and exhibit space as well as conservation labs, research library, an x-ray room and offices. Over one hundred people including elected officials, the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Museum members and longtime supporters attended the celebration.

“I began working on the restoration of the Keepers’ House through my involvement in the Junior Service League in the early ‘80s so it is truly a dream come true to see the archaeology and education center open,” said Judy Burnett Albright, a longtime volunteer, board member and now Trustee Emeritus. “Here, we are saving history, teaching children and providing new opportunities to locals and visitors to learn about our shared connection to the ocean all while we keep the light shining. I couldn’t be prouder to be a small part of this exciting project that is making a difference in our community!”

The new facility is unique to northeast Florida and has many notable features. Keeping the visitor in mind in the design process, the set-up of the lab spaces provide a walk-thru viewing room with a TV to help zoom in on an important detailed process that may be occurring. There is also a section of a ship’s portholes below the viewing window for a children’s view into the labs. The entire process of conservation from start to finish is on show here and staff anticipates people growing attached to a particular object undergoing conservation efforts and making repeat return trips to check on the status of an important object.

The new exhibition, Legends of the Light, is installed partially in the new building’s education space and partially in the Lighthouse tower. As one climbs the 219 steps to the top, information-packed but still fun and playful interpretive panels dot the landings as the visitor ascends. For those who cannot or choose not to climb the tower, there are plenty of hands-on activities and visuals for children and adults alike in the new building’s exhibit portion, including a Lighthouse tower playhouse and a fourth-order Fresnel lens.
“We’ve had such an outpouring of support from the community on this project,” said Kathy Fleming, Executive Director. “This new building with its lab spaces and new exhibition space is a very tangible addition to our Museum. I think that helped make it a more exciting project to get behind. We’re so thankful to those who’ve helped us along the way as we celebrate this accomplishment together because in the end, every person, every dollar and every hour donated helped us get to this point.”

Although all Museum members were invited to the event due to each member having some involvement in the fundraising process, there were some extremely generous donors recognized both at the event and with naming plaques within the new building including The Lastinger Family Foundation, Charles G. Cox, Gerald and Janet Carlisle, Judy Burnett Albright, Joe and Margaret Finnegan, Junior Service League of St. Augustine, Dr. Ron Dixon and PGA Tour, Inc.

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ABOUT THE ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE & MARITIME MUSEUM:
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 PortSM. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) non-profit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest PortSM 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.

Keepers of the Light

Keepers of the Light

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Alphonso Daniels, 2nd Assistant Keeper, 1928 St. Augustine Lighthouse

When you think about lighthouse keepers, what comes to mind? Maybe it is long, lonely nights dutifully keeping the lamps burning for ships unseen. Alternatively, perhaps it is a long day spent painting the lighthouse tower. Lighthouse keeping meant a hard life, especially as we think about it today. Who do you imagine did these tasks?

During the lighthouse boom of the 19th century, jobs requiring a rugged self-reliance would have been male dominated endeavors. While both sexes had worked equally hard on the frontier during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Industrial Revolution cemented for the next 200-years western views of men’s role as the worker and women’s role in the house. The Lighthouse Service was no exception to this rule. Even though entire families worked from dawn until dusk at light stations across the country, males made up the overwhelming majority of government appointed lighthouse keepers, who received pay for the work they performed.

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Are you ready to get “Enlightened”?

Presenting Enlightened! A New St. Augustine Lighthouse Educational Program

Have you ever wondered about the history and science behind the St. Augustine Lighthouse? Well, wonder no more! We are going to take you along on an exploration of all the amazing things we do here at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in our new YouTube series, Enlightened!

Enlightened is a way for us to share more with you — more stories, more history, more preservation, and more of the research we are doing every day to expand our understanding of people who interacted with the waterways around St. Augustine as part of their livelihood.

As the series grows and expands, we hope to add more interviews, viewer Q&As, and other elements that will allow our viewers to interact with the show and get all their burning Lighthouse questions answered.

Episode 1: The Fresnel Lens

For our first episode, we wanted to explore the heart of our Lighthouse (and all lighthouses, for that matter): the Fresnel lens! This magnificent piece is equal parts science and art, built with care and now preserved with care by our Museum staff.

Join us as we go inside the lens room (one of the few places at our Museum that is not accessible to the public) for an up-close look at our first order Fresnel lens.

Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel to catch each additional installment of the Fresnel lens episode in the coming weeks.

And don’t forget to follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for more great content!

Paul Zielinski is Director of Interpretation for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. He received his master’s degree in Public History from the University of West Florida and joined the lighthouse family in 2011.

Conservators Puzzle a Concrete Mystery

While waiting for the new conservation building to begin construction, the staff has been cleaning up around the old and new work sites. In the process, Starr found something pretty interesting. She was sweeping up in front of the World War 2 era garage and noticed a number of markings in the concrete.

The markings are all last names and dates they were written in the concrete. So far we can read: Muller, Warren, French and Cox. The Cox may be a Coast Guard designation, however, and not a last name as it shows up in multiple places. The dates are all 1944, with March 15 and March 17 in two different spots. This all leads us to believe that the concrete outside of the garage was poured during the war effort, either to fix or replace what was there before. This also leads us to believe that some things never change and the chance to write your name in wet concrete is too tempting to pass up.

"French" inscription.
“French” inscription.
"Muller" inscription.
“Muller” inscription.
"Warren" inscription.
“Warren” inscription.
Unreadable inscription.
Unreadable inscription.

We had earlier found a similar marking in the concrete in front of the barracks, as well.

Barracks inscription.
Barracks inscription.

The first thing we did with the barracks inscription was to mark the edges so that staff and visitors would avoid walking on it.

Next, Starr made a dam around the markings and poured silicone rubber over the top. Once the rubber cured, she had a mold of the inscription, just in case something happened to the original. Continue reading

The Lamplighters

Lighthouses conjure up romantic images of windswept shorelines and the intrepid keepers who maintained the light through the night.

However, by the mid-20th century, technology conspired to eliminate the light keepers’ responsibilities. Electric bulbs replaced the glow of oil lanterns; electric motors made the clockwork mechanism that turned the lens obsolete. Photocells, like the kind you find on the tops of streetlights around the country, now turned the light on and off.

And in 1955, with the St. Augustine Lighthouse completely automated, there was no longer a need for nightly visits by the light keepers.

The Lamplighters

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David Swain with his wife Mary posing during his time as keeper at Cape Canaveral Lighthouse

Despite the removal of light keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard still needed people to ensure the lights came on each night and perform routine maintenance. They called these people lamplighters. To fill these positions, the Coast Guard turned to those most familiar with the keeping of lighthouses: former light keepers.

The first lamplighter at the St. Augustine Lighthouse was a familiar face. David Swain had served as first assistant keeper from 1933 to 1944 before moving on to other lighthouses in Florida.

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