St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
The lighthouse as it appeared in 1824.
The lighthouse in 2015
Winding stairs inside the lighthouse. Photo by Laura Maple
Backstory and Context
The first lighthouse tower at St. Augustine, Florida, was lit in an old coquina watchtower in 1824. By 1870, this "Old Spanish Watchtower," as it was known, was threatened by shoreline erosion and the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for a new tower. Plans were drawn up by Paul J. Pelz, chief draftsman of the Lighthouse Board. The building task fell to Hezekiah H. Pittee who was the superintendent of lighthouse construction along the Atlantic coast. Lighthouse Board records note the October 10, 1871 contract for $11,900 with Paulding, Kemble and Company of Cold Spring, New York; the lighthouse was completed three years later for a total cost of $105,000.
First lit in October 1874, and restored after vandalism in 1993, the St. Augustine Lighthouse remains one of only a few such operating lenses in the United States. In 1876, a brick light keeper's house was added to the property and brick summer kitchens were added in 1888. The keeper’s dwelling was electrified in 1925, but the tower was not wired until 1936. During World War II armed Coastguardsmen stood guard atop the tower, fixed jeeps in the 1836 garage, and lived in a small barracks building. Electricity lessened the keeper’s responsibilities, eventually leading to de-staffing of the lighthouse in 1955. In the late 1960s, the keeper’s house was boarded up, declared surplus, and put up for auction. St. Johns County was negotiating the purchase of the dwelling when the structure was completely gutted by fire on July 28, 1970. The Junior Service League of St. Augustine offered to take on the restoration project in 1980. Then, as mentioned above, eight years later the dwelling opened as a maritime museum.
Now known as the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, Inc., in 2015, the non-profit organization purchased the remainder of the property from St. Johns County in order to preserve the surrounding landscape. Today the site serves 216,000 visitors and community members with both on and off-site educational programs.
Queen, Roila L. "St. Augustine Lighthouse." National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places. March 19, 1981. http://focus.nps.gov/GetAsset?assetID=14f2a89d-bcc7-4bcf-a907-e67242daca17.