Sullivan's Island Lighthouse
Backstory and Context
Commissioned on June 15, 1962 as the last onshore lighthouse to be built in the United States, the Charleston Light, known locally as the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse, replaced the original 1876 Morris Island Lighthouse. Designed by Jack Graham, who studied under noted American architect Louis Kahn at the University of Pennsylvania, the light was the second-brightest in the Western Hemisphere when it was commissioned. In response to complaints, the range of this South Carolina light has been reduced to a still impressive distance of over 26 nautical miles. The 163-foot-tall lighthouse is also unique in that its tower is triangular; allowing it to withstand winds of up to 125 miles per hour, and it is the only U.S. lighthouse with an elevator and air conditioning.
The lighthouse is part of the National Register U.S. Coast Guard Historic District, which represents the evolution of events important in United States maritime history from 1891 to 1962. In 1891-98, a lifesaving station was built on Sullivan’s Island. The station’s dwelling and boathouse still survive next to the lighthouse and were used by those manning the light. In 1990, with the third enlargement of the Fort Sumter National Monument, the National Park Service took over the lifesaving station property, excluding the lighthouse, and started to use the historic buildings as offices, maintenance shops, and housing for seasonal rangers. With lighthouses becoming less important in an era of global positioning system navigation, in 2008, through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the lighthouse was transferred from the United States Coast Guard to the National Park Service and incorporated into the Fort Sumter National Monument. Determined individually eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, the Coast Guard continues to maintain the active light, while the Park Service maintains the tower.