Tag Archives: St. Augustine

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.

145th CELEBRATION EVENT

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. 

HISTORY

1871

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).

1874

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 staugustinelighthouse.org or call 904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at facebook.com/staugustinelighthouse, Instagram.com/stauglighthouse and twitter.com/firstlighthouse


ABOUT THE ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE & MARITIME MUSEUM:

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. (StAugustineLighthouse.org)

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. (www.aam-us.org)

Sept. 4: New Ghost Hunters episode at the St. Augustine Lighthouse airs on A&E

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – They’re back! Attention Ghost Hunter fans: Third time’s a charm! The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum will be featured at 9 p.m. Wednesday, September 4 on A&E in a new episode of Ghost Hunters called “Return to St. Augustine.” Prior to 2019, the original Ghost Hunters (TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society), filmed at the St. Augustine Lighthouse in 2006 and 2008.

From the A&E website: “Grant (Wilson) returns to the St. Augustine Lighthouse, site of some of the most compelling paranormal evidence ever captured in Ghost Hunters history when the team is summoned to investigate a reported increase in paranormal activity, both in and around the undeniably haunted landmark. …”

The film production company (Pilgrim Media Group) reached out to lighthouse staff in March, asking if Ghost Hunters could return to the Museum.

“I’m working on the new season of Ghost Hunters and we want to have our team revisit a handful of the BEST locations from the show’s first 11 seasons. Obviously, St. Augustine is one of the best episodes we’ve ever done, so naturally we’d love to come back if you’ll have us… We’d like to have our team spend 2-3 nights investigating, after hours,” said John Fitzpatrick, Segment Producer with Pilgrim Media Group, a Lionsgate Company.

Filming took place in May of this year, organized by Kelcie Lloyd, Special Programs Manager for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Lloyd is a guide and manages the staff for Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours. She also will be featured on the episode.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse, built from 1871-74.

“I’ve been here for a number other filming including the WWE, some smaller companies, and many YouTube videos. I’m behind the scenes in most of the videos, as I have a preference to not be on film, but that wasn’t the case for Ghost Hunters,” Lloyd said.

“The Ghost Hunters and the crew are some of the nicest people I’ve met. Some nights they filmed until the wee hours of the morning and were still polite and thankful that we (staff) were there. They were very respectful of the fact we were a historical site and an active attraction,” Lloyd explained.

Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours feature ghost stories that include history about the first lighthouse, called the Spanish Watchtower, and the current St. Augustine Lighthouse. The most popular story includes the two Pittee sisters and their playmate who drowned in 1873 during construction of the current tower. Another popular story includes lighthouse keeper Joseph Andreu, who fell to his death white-washing the Spanish Watchtower, and his wife, Maria, who became the first female lighthouse keeper in Florida.

The 1874 Keepers’ House at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“Our Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours help to support our Lighthouse Archaeology Maritime Program at the nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, explained Executive Director Kathy Fleming. “Everything we do at the Museum saves our maritime past.”

Also on September 4, the episode featuring the St. Augustine Lighthouse from 2006 will be shown at 4 p.m. on A&E, followed by the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse at 5 p.m., and the Pensacola Lighthouse at 6 p.m.

From the A&E website: “Fifteen years after introducing the world to the field of authentic paranormal investigation, ‘Ghost Hunters’ returns to television. The series that terrified and captivated fans for 11 seasons will follow one of the original team leaders, Grant Wilson, and his handpicked group of professional ghost hunters as they use their decades of field experience to investigate hauntings across the country. Engaging forensic experts, historical records and the most innovative technology available, the new squad will help everyday people who are struggling with unexplained supernatural phenomena. The team is committed to discovering the truth to give relief to those plagued by paranormal activity and will follow the evidence they uncover wherever it may lead.”

“It’s going to be exciting to see what kind of things the Ghost Hunters find. It might make working nights a little more unsettling,” said Megan Cejmer, Specialty Program Assistant Manager and Dark of the Moon Ghost Tour guide at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

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


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 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. (www.aam-us.org)

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)