Tag Archives: history

Frequently Asked Questions by Lighthouse Visitors

Before You Visit

Q. Can I climb the lighthouse?

A. Yes, weather permitting, you can walk out on the observation deck and look into the lens room. For their safety, children must be at least 44 inches tall to climb.

Q. Are there any restrictions to climbing?

A. You must be at least 44 inches tall to go up to the top of the lighthouse. Children who are not tall enough to climb get in free, and one adult with them gets in half off. Carrying children in the tower is prohibited, and all climbers must do so on their own power.

Q. How tall is the lighthouse?

A. The top of the lighthouse is 165 feet above sea level.

Q. How many steps are there?

A. There are 219 steps to reach the observation deck. There are also eight landings, one with a bench, where visitors can rest and let other people pass.

Q. What is there to do besides climb the lighthouse?

A. We have a children’s play area and puppet theater for those too short to climb, and there are exhibits in four historic structures and the new Maritime Center, many of which are hands on and interactive. We also have a boatbuilding program and schedule of Daily Demos that cover boatbuilding, historic sailing and navigation, underwater archaeology and lighthouse history.

Q. Can you see through the stairs?

A. Yes. However, there are railings conveniently located on both sides.

Q. Does the lighthouse have an elevator?

A. No, the lighthouse is an historic structure, completed in 1874.

Q. Is the site handicap accessible?

A. Yes. An alternative short entrance path is available from the handicapped parking to the grounds. Staff will open the gate upon request. A ramp provides access to the ground floor of the Keepers’ House, containing exhibits. Other exhibits, including the PGA Artifact Conservation Lab Viewing Hallway, in the Maritime Education Center are also wheelchair accessible, and there is a video, “A View from the Top” so those unable to climb can see the view. However, the light station is an historic site and certain areas are accessible only by stairs. Upon request staff will open the emergency exit door to access the basement, a six-step stairway alternative to the spiral staircase inside the dwelling. Stairs lead up to the second floor of the keepers’ house. The office and storage room at the base of the tower are accessed by five steps equipped with handrails. The base of the lighthouse is reached by an additional twelve granite steps with handrails. A large print self-guided walking tour is available at the welcome counter in the Visitors’ Center.

Q. Can I climb in the rain?

A. Yes, unless there is thunder or lightning, you are able to climb the tower in the rain. The observation deck will be closed if it gets too wet or if rain is coming in the access door. There is no climbing when thunder and lightning are observed in the area.

Q. Does it ever get too windy to go to the top?

A. When wind speeds at the top of the tower exceed 30 mph, children are restricted from going out on the observation deck. When wind speeds reach 40 mph or greater, access to the observation deck is off limits to all climbers.

Fun Facts and Information

Q. When was the lighthouse built?

A. The St. Augustine Lighthouse was built between 1871 and 1874. It took three years to build due to lack of manpower and funds. It was first lit October 15, 1874.

The first St. Augustine Lighthouse, called the Old Spanish Watchtower, fell into the ocean in 1880.

Q. Why is the lighthouse so far from the coast?

A. The first St. Augustine Lighthouse was approximately 500 yards northeast of the current Lighthouse and fell into the ocean in 1880. The current location was selected due to its relatively high elevation atop of an old beach dune.

Q. Does the St. Augustine Lighthouse still come on at night?

A. Yes, it is a privately-owned active aid to navigation. The nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum owns and maintains the lighthouse and other historic structures on the grounds.

Q. What were the rooms at the base of the tower used for?

A. The north room, on the right when you are looking at the tower, was used to store the lard oil that fueled the light in the late 19th century. To the left, or south of, the entrance was the lighthouse keepers’ office, where they maintained detailed records of equipment, repairs, maintenance and watch logs.

Q. Is that the original Keepers’ House?

A. Yes, it is the original Keepers’ House. After being gutted by fire in the 1970s, the Junior Service League of St. Augustine restore the structure and opened a museum. The house and lighthouse tower are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Q. Why is the Keepers’ House so big?

A. St. Augustine had up to three lighthouse keepers and their families that lived in the home. It was arranged as a duplex, with the Head Keepers’ family on the north side, the 1st Assistant Keeper on the south side, and a single room for the 2nd Assistant Keeper, who was usually unmarried. So while it is a big home, it housed up to 15 people at any given time!

Q. What are the other historic buildings?

A. The Tin Pickle, Local Gedunk WWII-themed eatery, is located in a building first constructed as a garage for the keepers in 1936. As part of the coastal response to WWII, it was converted into a garage to maintain jeeps that worked on the U.S. Navy Beach Patrol that looked for German U-boats and other threatening activity off the coast. The other small white building directly north of the keepers’ house was built in 1941-42 to house additional U.S. Coast Guardsmen that ensured a 24-hour lookout from the top of the lighthouse.

Q. What is Maritime Archaeology?

A. Learn more about this here.

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum welcomes Cultural Heritage team from Spain

From left: John Regan, St. Augustine City Manager; Manuel de la Cruz, Edriel Intelligence; Carlos Leon Amores, General Subdirectorate of Historical Heritage of the Ministry of Culture for the Nation of Spain; Kathy Fleming, Executive Director of St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum; Francisco Sanchez-Guitard, Edriel Intelligence and member of a Spanish boat building family; Leanna Freeman, Vice Mayor City of St. Augustine; John Valdes, City Commissioner, City of St. Augustine; Irving Kass, Owner of Saint George Inn and Board of Trustees Treasurer at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum; and Chuck Meide, Director of Archaeology at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

St. Augustine, FL –The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum welcomed a Cultural Heritage team from Spain on Thursday, April 25 at the nonprofit Museum.

Honored guests from Spain included Carlos Leon Amores, Independent consultant for the ministery General Subdirectorate of Historical Heritage of the Ministry of Culture for the Nation of Spain; Manuel de la Cruz from Malaga, Spain and Francisco Sanchez-Guitard of Edriel Intelligence. Sanchez-Guitard is also a member of a Spanish boatbuilding family.

The City of St. Augustine officials were present at the event, with Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman presenting gold coins with the City seal to the Spanish team. Commissioner John Valdes attended as well as City Manager, John Regan. Irving Kass of the St. George Inn kicked off the entire event as the Museum’s Board Treasurer presenting a copy of the PBS video of the story of St. Augustine from the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine.

A gold coin with the City of St. Augustine seal was presented to visiting Spanish guests.

Sanchez-Guitard has a vision shared by the Museum – to make the St. Augustine area a maritime hub of learning, connecting the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum to the  Fountain of Youth, the settlement site of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and scholars worldwide. This work is echoed by historian Dr. Michael Francis in his La Florida project, revealing Florida history through a digital archive of Spanish heritage in the Americas. Francis and his students are chronicling the lives and culture of those that traveled with Menendez. Please see www.laflorida.org for more information.

Carlos Leon Amores has released the first inventory of Spanish shipwrecks in America (between 1492 and 1898) with more than 600 Spanish shipwrecks on the list. The catalog of Spanish Cultural Heritage is part of the National Plan for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage developed by Spain, under the principles of the UNESCO convention and funded in part through a partnership with NOAA. Amores’ list does not yet include shipwrecks in the First Coast region. The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum’s research arm, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, seeks to become the first archaeological nonprofit to help with this important work and to add the nation’s oldest port to this international database.

“Our Museum’s shared objective with scholars from all over the world is not so much to raise these ships from the ocean floor, but to preserve the information that they hold and to protect them from looting and pillaging, said Kathy Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“Instead we seek to tell their hidden stories, and reveal our worldwide connections to each other.”

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


Minorcan cast net maker, Michael Usina, to be presented Florida Folk Heritage Award in April

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Michael Usina, St. Augustine native and Minorcan descendent, has been recognized recently by the state as a recipient of a 2019 Florida Folk Heritage Award.

Michael Usina

Usina celebrates his Minorcan heritage by crafting hand-made cast nets using techniques passed down by his ancestors who settled St. Augustine in the 18th century.

Driven by a desire to promote Minorcan folk arts, Usina has shared this tradition in one-on-one apprenticeships, a documentary and at a variety of public events including the Florida Folk Festival.

For the past seven years, he has demonstrated his craft at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. He has provided Minorcan cast net making demonstrations on the grounds of the Museum for visitors and during summer camps with the Museum’s Education Program.

Tools used by Mike Usina for creating Minorcan cast nets.

“Thanks to Mike for so enthusiastically sharing his stories and skills with campers and visitors over the last 7-plus years,” said Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretative Division at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. “Working with him is an honor and a privilege.”

The Folk Heritage Awards are given to outstanding folk artists and advocates who have made longstanding contributions to the folklife and cultural resources of Florida. In the category of Folklife Advocate, the award recipients are James Billie, former chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and Tina Bucuvalas, Curator of Arts & Historical Resources for the City of Tarpon Springs.

In the category of Folk Artist, the award recipients are Jane Wells Scott, fiddler in Tallahassee, and Michael Usina, Minorcan cast net maker in St. Augustine. Awards will be presented to the recipients in a ceremony at the Word of South Festival in Tallahassee on April 13, 2019.

“Folk artists and advocates help keep important traditions alive so they can be passed down and shared from generation to generation,” said Secretary Ertel. “The Department is honored to recognize these four individuals for their commitment to fostering Florida’s folk arts and cultural heritage.”

Usina has been making cast nets for more than 60 years using the same techniques as his Minorcan ancestors who settled North Florida more than 240 years ago. He learned the skills from his father Julian, who had learned them from his father.

Phil Castillo (left), friend of Mike Usina (center), and volunteer Tim Jackson
on the grounds of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum during
a Minorcan cast net making demonstration.

The Usinas owned a local filling station where they made nets in their spare time. By the time he was nine years old, Michael had knitted his first four foot Spanish mullet net. As a teen, he made and sold one per week and throughout adulthood, continued to make cast nets to provide for his family, eventually mastering both the Spanish and English varieties.

After retiring from a career as an airplane sheet metal mechanic for the Department of Defense, he focused his efforts on promoting his Minorcan folklife. Since 2012 he has shared net making, fishing and other aspects of maritime culture with youth at the annual summer camp hosted by the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. He served as a Master Artist in the Folklife Apprenticeship Program in 2015, led independent apprenticeships, produced the documentary The Minorcan History of Hand Made Netmaking and regularly demonstrates at community events including annually at the Florida Folk Festival.

His efforts generated growing interest in folk arts in St. Augustine garnering notice from the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, who recommended he apply for funding. In partnership with the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, he secured enough funding to host a folk arts workshop series that included net making as well as Cuban and Greek foodways, palm frond weaving, ship modeling and Greek dancing.   

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, a private nonprofit, is open for guests  from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, with extended hours in the summer and on holidays. For ticket and tour details, go to staugustinelighthouse.org or call 904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at facebook.com/staugustinelighthouse, Instagram.com/stauglighthouse, and twitter.com/firstlighthouse

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum open during government shutdown

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, a private nonprofit, is open for guests during the government shutdown. Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours also are available each Friday through Sunday. For ticket and tour details, go to staugustinelighthouse.org or call 904-829-0745.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is not government owned. In 1998 the Museum was separately incorporated as a not-for-profit institution with a mission of maritime history, education and community service.

Climb 219 to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Guests are shown on the observation deck of the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

In 1980, the Junior Service League of St. Augustine, Inc., who were then a group of only 16 volunteers, began a fifteen-year campaign to restore the Keepers’ House that was destroyed and gutted by a vandal’s fire. The League went on to restore the lighthouse tower, and with assistance from the United States Coast Guard, they performed the first Fresnel Lens restoration in the world.  The lens had been damaged by a vandal’s bullet, and was almost removed, but the entire community stepped in to save this front porch light for the community.  A maritime museum was opened to the public part-time in 1988 run by volunteers.  In spring 1994, the full site was opened to the public full time. 

The Keepers’ House at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, built in 1886. View multiple exhibits on three levels within the house and basement.

THINGS TO DO

At the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, climb 219 steps to the top of the 165-foot tower for a breathtaking view of historic downtown St. Augustine, the beaches, and the nation’s oldest port.  Discover St. Augustine’s rich maritime history at the site of Florida’s first lighthouse. Explore exhibits in the restored Keepers’ House about the lives of the Lighthouse keepers and their families, and shipwreck discoveries made off the coast of St. Augustine.

Incredible views of the St. Augustine area and the Atlantic Ocean can be seen from the observation deck of the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Also on site, a WWII US Coast Guard Barracks, Behind the Scenes Tours, a Maritime Hammock Scavenger Hunt, an archaeology lab, and a View from the Top video (for those who don’t climb the Lighthouse) in the Maritime Education Center. For little ones: A shipyard playground and hands-on activities throughout the exhibits and grounds (children less than 44 inches tall can’t climb the tower but get free admission). Don’t forget to shop in the museum store for unique lighthouse and maritime gifts.

View conservation of shipwreck artifacts in the viewing window of the Archaeological Maritime Education Center at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

EXHIBITS

  • Wrecked! The Story of a Revolutionary War Shipwreck
  • At Home with the Harns: A Look Inside the Home of a Keeper Family
  • Legends of the Light: Stories from the Lighthouse’s Past
  • US Coast Guard Barracks from WWII with artwork depicting the US Coast Guard
  • Maritime Education Center ship models and Spanish Watchtower replica
This photo shows the WRECKED! exhibit in the basement of the Keepers’ House where shipwreck artifacts are on view from a 1782 British loyalist shipwreck found in St. Augustine.

OTHER THINGS TO DO

  • Self-Guided St. Augustine Light Station Tour
  • View from the Top video (for those who don’t climb and those under 44 inches)
  • Behind the Scenes tour: on the hour from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
  • Keepers’ House
  • Heritage Boatworks: Building on Florida’s Maritime Heritage
  • Northeast Florida Shrimping: Foundation of a Global Enterprise
  • Maritime Hammock Nature Trails & Scavenger Hunt
  • Archaeology Conservation Lab & viewing window 
  • Shipyard Playground
  • Hands-on children’s activities
  • Gift shop with Lighthouse & Maritime items

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

Interactive tablets help visitors learn about shipwrecks in the Keepers’ House.

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)

A model of the first St. Augustine Lighthouse (Spanish Watchtower) is located in the Maritime Education Center, along with ship models, a View from the Top video, and hands-on children’s activities.

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)  

Updates from the Lab

While our beautiful new Maritime Archaeology and Education Center (MAEC) was being built, conservation was disassembled and all artifacts were put into a state of monitored wet storage. Taking those items out of storage and getting conservation back on track has been a slow and detailed process. This process requires an inventory and condition analysis of all items, as well as setting up each area of conservation in order for treatments to begin.

Though we are not quite running at 100% yet, we have made great leaps and bounds. Part of our inventory includes new items recovered from our current shipwreck, Anniversary.  Since everything was essentially put straight into a holding pattern, we are just now starting to analyze the items we recovered last summer. In fact, dredge spoil from the site is still being sorted and new items are being discovered daily.

One of our biggest challenges is to discern what items, if any, are contained within the concretions we recover. Conservation is expensive, so we must focus on items that can answer certain research questions, like the time period or the nationality of the vessel. One way for us to do this is through X-ray analysis. While x-rays won’t show 100% of what is contained within a concretion, they do show us a lot visually and help us narrow our conservation focus.

X-rays allow us to look into concretions without damaging the items inside. This particular X-ray shows a padlock.

Due to the generosity of Doctors Eric Searcy, DMV and John Yselonia, DMV at Antigua Veterinary Practice, we can now begin to take our own x-rays! They donated their previous machine for us to use in our MAEC building, and we have just begun to analyze last summer’s concretions.

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Over 25 brass tacks were found using our new X-ray machine!

Our very first in-house X-ray proved to be exiting for more reasons than just being our first X-ray.  Inside the concretion are more than 25 brass furniture tacks, something we have not encountered on our previous wreck sites, and an iron padlock. We are uncertain if either of these items will help us better date or identify this wreck, but it is always exciting to reveal what history has left us.

Contributed by Director of Archeological Conservation Starr Cox, edited by Social Media Specialist Daniel Lee