Tybee Island Light Station
Photo of the light station in 2005
Backstory and Context
The first tower was built in 1736 under the direction of James Oglethorpe and was constructed of wood; it was destroyed by a storm in 1741 and replaced a year later with a brick and wood structure. After the second tower succumbed to shoreline erosion, a third, 100-foot brick tower was constructed in 1773. Retreating Confederate forces burned the lighthouse and removed the lens in 1861. Reconstruction of the light began in 1866 and included a new tower constructed atop the first 60 feet of the old tower for a total height of 145 feet tall. A new, fireproof cast-iron staircase formed the spine of the lighthouse, and a First Order Fresnel lens was placed in the lantern room. This lighthouse was illuminated for the first time on October 1, 1867.
The main tower was severely damaged in a hurricane in 1871. New keeper’s dwellings were constructed in 1881 and 1885. The following year the tower was shaken by the 1886 Charleston earthquake, which damaged the lens and caused further cracking of the brickwork; these were both immediately repaired. In 1933 the tower was electrified and later automated in 1972.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the five-acre site includes the lighthouse, a head keeper’s house built in 1881, a first assistant’s house built in 1885, a second assistant’s house built in 1861, a summer kitchen dating back to 1812, an oil house built in 1890, and a garage built in the 1930s. In 1998-99 a major restoration project began under the auspices of the Tybee Island Historical Society. Ownership of the Tybee Island Light Station was officially conveyed to the Tybee Island Historical Society in 2002 as part of the pilot program of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. During the application process and after the property transfer, the Historical Society continued preserving and maintaining the property including the restoring the head keeper’s house in 2000-01, rehabilitating the first assistant’s house in 2003-04, and restoring the second assistant’s house in 2008.
"Our Story." Tybee Island Light Station. Accessed August 4, 2016. https://www.tybeelighthouse.org/history.