Category Archives: Lighthouse History

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum celebrates the 145th Anniversary of the Historic Tower

St. Johns County residents receive free admission on October 15 with code JSL

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum celebrates 145 years of maritime history in the current historic, lighthouse tower. The second lighthouse at St. Augustine was built from 1871 to 1874 and topped by the first-order Fresnel lens from Paris, France. The first lighting was by Keeper William Russell on October 15, 1874.

“The tower stands testament to a maritime heritage that is one of the foundations of our community. Our lovely light is a symbol of safety, security, and community service, the front porch light for our community, one that has seen the likes of Henry Flagler, the development of the Alcazar Hotel, the Spanish American War, the building of the Bridge of Lines, two world wars, and the development of a modern, shrimping fleet that literally changed the foodways of the United States. It is right that we should celebrate its anniversary,” said Kathy A. Fleming, the Museum’s Executive Director since 1994. 

The oldest brick structure in St. Augustine, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the St. Augustine Lighthouse beacon is a private, but active aid-to-navigation, with the original lens shining kept shining through the efforts of the Museum’s staff and corps of 270 volunteers. 

The tower and lens were saved by the Junior Service League of St. Augustine (JSL) between 1980 and 1998, when a separate community-based Board of Trustees took control of the Museum. The 1876 Keepers’ House burned in 1970 and was threatened with demolition. Initially, 16 women in the JSL stepped in to accept ownership from the County of St. Johns, turning back the bulldozers and restoring the house. They opened it as a maritime museum, with an idea of helping others.

“Sherry Butler Bowen was one of the women with that earliest vision,” said Fleming. “She was followed by countless others in our community who keep the torch alight.”

In 1991, Margaret McClure Van Ormer approached the United States Coast Guard about acquiring the historic lighthouse tower; the Coast Guard agreed, and at Margaret’s suggestion, they agreed to paint it first.

In 1993, the JSL celebrated the completion of the restoration project with the first Community Day, including the relighting of the original Fresnel lens and fireworks. The event garnered 5,000 visitors and drew national attention with CNN covering what was then the first restoration of a Fresnel lens in the world.


To mark the 145th anniversary, the Museum will celebrate with the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. St. Johns County Residents are free that day if they mention the passcode “JSL.” 

Then from 6 pm to 8 pm on October 15, the Museum will hold its Annual Meeting of the Members, which will feature a birthday cake. The speaker will be Executive Director and JSL Active Sustainer, Kathy Fleming, who will share some lighthouse stories.

There will be a recognition for Architect Ken Smith (Kenneth Smith Architects of Jacksonville). Smith oversaw the restoration of the tower working with then Museum director, the late Cullen Chambers. Smith has continued to oversee preservation efforts at the historic light tower ever since.

The Junior Service League of St. Augustine, Inc. and the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum are being honored by receipt of the Herschel Shepherd Award, by the St. Augustine Society on October 2 in an event organized by the Historical Society. 



When it became evident that the first St. Augustine Lighthouse (called the Old Spanish Watchtower) was doomed to fall into the ocean, the U.S. Congress appropriated $100,000 funding for a new tower. The U.S. Lighthouse Service began construction on a new 165-foot lighthouse in 1871 and it was completed in 1874. Local African Americans and Lighthouse Service Professionals worked together on site. 

More than 1 million bricks came by boat from Alabama, along with granite from Georgia, and steel from Pennsylvania. Supporting the lighthouse is a poured concrete foundation that begins 8 feet below grade, and rests on a naturally-formed coquina shell-rock underpinning. A concrete and masonry base of 10 feet 9 inches rests atop the foundation. Wall thickness is 5 ft 8 inches at the base of the 165-foot-tall tower (a masonry, truncated cone).


On October 15, 1874, lighthouse keeper William Russell lit the oil lamp inside the new, first-order Fresnel lens for the first time. He most likely walked to the tower from his residence at the old St. Augustine Light Station, upon which the sea was rapidly encroaching. The lens is 9-feet tall, and Russell would have had to climb inside it to light the lamps.

The jewel-like lens was handcrafted just for St. Augustine in Paris, France by the company of Sauter & Lemonier. It represented the height of Victorian engineering and technology and cast its beam much farther out to sea than its predecessor. The new light demonstrated three fixed-flashes, from three bulls-eye panels that could be seen from up to 24 nautical miles depending on atmospheric conditions. Fueled by lard oil, and then kerosene the first light would have given a glowing, yellow-hued light. 

On February 28, 1889, The Saint Augustine Weekly News described the lens in the following manner, “The lamp was a brass cylinder of 10 gallons capacity. Inside it has a heavyweight, which governs the flow of oil to the burner. The burner has five wicks in concentric circles…The globe is a huge case of glass, which revolves around the lamp every 9 minutes. It makes a flash every three minutes when a big bulls-eye lines up between the lamp and the human eye. The cage weighs two tons.”

In 1955 the light was automated by an astronomical clock, automatic lamp (light bulb) changer and backup generator. The night mark changed at this time as well. Today an electric motor controls rotation speed, and one fixed white flash, every 30 seconds, shines across our home town. 

The Museum provides a host of services including donations of more than $300,000 annually in goods and services to other nonprofits. The team preserves six historic buildings and holds over 19,000 artifacts in trust for future generations. Educational Programs, Maritime Archaeological Research, Heritage Boat Building, and an active volunteer program of 300+ volunteers help build wellness, job experiences for young people, and civic engagement. 

For more details about the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, visit or call 904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at, and


A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for 145 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) nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest Port® 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. (

About the American Alliance of Museums:

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum has achieved accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition afforded the nation’s museums. The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. (

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.


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

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:

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 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 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

To learn more about the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum visit

Visit 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.