National Lighthouse Day celebrated August 7 at St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

Alexander Hamilton was first Supervisor of all U.S. lighthouses

Long before the days of GPS, lighthouses played an integral role in keeping sailors safe on the water. There was no Siri to tell them where to go, so they simply had to fully rely on their wits … and lighthouses.

The first St. Augustine Lighthouse, called the Spanish Watchtower, which become Florida’s first lighthouse in 1824. This tower fell into the ocean in 1880, six years after the current St. Augustine Lighthouse was completed in 1874.

On August 7, 1789, the U.S. Congress recognized the importance of Lighthouses and passed the Act for the Establishment and Support of Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers. This act officially put lighthouses under federal control, attempting to make navigation for sailors more efficient and safer.

The act specified that it was “the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury” to oversee that the act’s provisions be carried out. This included maintenance of all lighthouses and aids to navigation, as well as overseeing construction of the mandated lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay. 

Guests are shown on the observation deck at the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. On National Lighthouse Day and every day of the week, visitors can climb all 219 steps to take in amazing views of St. Augustine, Florida. Guests also can learn about maritime history in multiple exhibits on site.

Alexander Hamilton became the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789, a little over a month after the Lighthouse Act was passed. Thus, Secretary Hamilton oversaw the transition of responsibility for all existing lighthouses (and other aids to navigation) from the various states and municipalities to the federal government. 

Two hundred years later, The United States Lighthouse Society petitioned for August 7, 1989, to be deemed National Lighthouse Day, in honor of the day that Congress signed the Act. This petition only deemed National Lighthouse Day to be a holiday for that specific year.

Then, on August 7, 2013, the Senate passed a resolution stating that every August 7th be declared National Lighthouse Day. Although not officially law, the recognition of August 7th as National Lighthouse and Lighthouse Preservation Day continues with the government and its agencies, including the National Park Service, which maintains a number of historic lighthouses across the country.

The Junior Service of St. Augustine saved the 1876 Keepers’ House, renovating it and creating a maritime museum, and then asked the US government for the St. Augustine Lighthouse tower and the original Fresnel lens. The lens had been shot by a vandal’s bullet, damaging 19 prisms in the beehive structure. The US Coast Guard shut down the lens in 1991 and replaced it with a modern airport beacon, but the League quickly rose to this challenge. The keepers’ house restoration was finished in 1990, and in 1991, the League signed a lease with the U.S. Coast Guard and opened part time to the public.

“Thanks to the Junior Service League of St. Augustine, the St. Augustine Light Station was saved and a maritime museum was created,” said Kathy Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“We are nonprofit, mission-centered, and community connected. Our donors and members continue to help us save maritime history and keep the light shining.”

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum will celebrate National Lighthouse Day on August 7. Learn the history of Florida’s first lighthouse in exhibits at the nonprofit Museum and participate in the Nation’s Oldest Port Demos, interactive demonstrations offered daily every 30 minutes from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days each week, with hours changing to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. after Labor Day.

Check out the Conservation Lab on your next visit to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, which working conservators are preserving historic artifacts.

The 145th anniversary of the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse will be celebrated on October 15, 2019. This second tower was built from 1871-1874, and the first order Fresnel lens was lit on October 15, 1874. Prior to this tower, the Spanish Watchtower was named Florida’s first lighthouse in 1824 by the U.S. government. A wooden watchtower was first built at the site in the 1560s, followed by the Spanish Watchtower, which stood at 70 feet high and was made of coquina, like the Castillo de San Marcos. That coquina came from the quarry on Anastasia Island.

Visit staugustinelighthouse.org for more details.

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 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. (StAugustineLighthouse.org)

About the American Alliance of Museums:

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is accredited 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. As the ultimate mark of distinction in the museum field, accreditation signifies excellence and credibility. Accreditation helps to ensure the integrity and accessibility of museum collections,  and reinforces the education and public service roles of museums and promote good governance practices and ethical behavior. 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. (www.aam-us.org)

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/

Ivory Lice Comb found on 1782 shipwreck

This lice comb was found in a concretion from the Storm shipwreck, a 1782 American Revolutionary War shipwreck excavated by St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum archaeologists and students from 2009-2017.

View other artifacts from this shipwreck in WRECKED!, an exhibit in the Keepers’ House at the Museum. Read more about the shipwreck here.

View artifacts in the WRECKED! exhibit which were found on the 1782 American Revolutionary War shipwreck. This photo shows artifacts in the the basement of the Keepers’ House.

Believed to be made of ivory, the lice comb had salts removed before being treated with a reinforcing agent. This was completed by conservators on site at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Lice combs were important in early shipboard life as lice were extremely common.

It was determined that the wreck carried loyalists or Tories evacuating Charles Town, SC and fleeing to British East Florida, which was still loyal to the crown. As many as 16 ships from Charleston (the name of Charles Town today)wrecked on the St. Augustine sandbar on New Year’s Eve, December 1782.

As British loyalists ran in fear of the victorious Americans, many lost everything they had to the sea. Excavation recovered hundreds of artifacts but we do not always know what they are right away. Archaeologists use x-ray analysis to gain a clearer picture of objects locked inside odd, lumpy rocks retrieved from the seabed.

Visit staugustinelighthouse.org for more details.

St. Augustine Lighthouse nominated as Best Haunted Destination by USA Today’s 10Best

Voting open through August 26

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum was nominated as Best Haunted Destination 2019 by USA Today’s 10Best website. Voting opened on July 29 and continues through Aug. 26 at 10best.com/awards/travel/best-haunted-destination-2019/

From the story:

“The United States is filled with purportedly haunted locations, each with their own ghost stories and paranormal occurrences. Vote once per day for your favorite haunted destination until voting ends on Monday, August 26 at noon eastern time. The winning places will be announced on 10Best on Friday, September 6.”

Locations on the list include the Wavery Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky; the Villisca Ax Murder House in Iowa; Fort Mifflin on the Delaware in Philadelphia; the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia; the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio; and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia, among others.

From the listing about the St. Augustine Lighthouse: “Paranormal activity reported at the St. Augustine Lighthouse includes the disembodied voice of a woman asking for help. Dark of the Moon ghost tours take visitors into the lighthouse at night to learn about the spirits that may still haunt the 1876 Keepers’ House and 1874 lighthouse tower.”

During ghost tours at the lighthouse, guests hear stories about the history of the lighthouse, lighthouse keepers, their families, and those who played a role in building the 1874 tower. Ghost stories also go back to the Spanish Watchtower, the first lighthouse made of coquina, which became Florida’s first lighthouse in 1824.

“Everything we do at our nonprofit Museum saves our maritime past,” said Executive Director Kathy Fleming. “Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours helps fund the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, enabling us to continue our mission to preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest Port.”

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum will be featured on the new season of Ghost Hunters, which debuts August 21 on A&E. In addition, the St. Augustine Lighthouse has been highlighted on CNN, MSN, the Travel Channel, Fox News, The Weather Channel, and Parade Magazine.

For additional information, visit www.staugustinelighthouse.org

ABOUT THE ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE & MARITIME MUSEUM:

A defensive and navigation tool and landmark of St. Augustine for 145 years, the St. Augustine Light Station watches over the waters of the Nation’s Oldest Port®. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, Inc. 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. (StAugustineLighthouse.org)

ABOUT THE AMERICAN ALLIANCE OF MUSEUMS:

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is accredited 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. As the ultimate mark of distinction in the museum field, accreditation signifies excellence and credibility. Accreditation helps to ensure the integrity and accessibility of museum collections,  and reinforces the education and public service roles of museums and promote good governance practices and ethical behavior. 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. (www.aam-us.org) 

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.