Tour the Iconic St. George Island Lighthouse

St. George Island Lighthouse, Florida
St. George Island Lighthouse, Florida | Photo Credit: Violet Sky Adventures
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Perched along Florida’s untamed Panhandle coastline, St. George Island offers pristine white sand beaches, abundant wildlife, and a fascinating maritime history. One iconic emblem of the island’s past is the ill-fated Cape St. George Lighthouse, which bravely stood guard at the southern tip of Little St. George Island for over 150 years. Though the original tower eventually collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico, it has now been faithfully reconstructed and shines once again as a beacon of the island’s legacy.

History

The Cape St. George Lighthouse has endured a tumultuous history matching the inclement weather of its coastal home. The first St. George Island lighthouse was erected in 1833 on the western end to mark the narrow entry to Apalachicola Bay, then a bustling cotton shipping port. This 65-foot tower was soon proven ineffective, as its location left it obscured from ships approaching from the east.

Cape St. George Light, St. George Island c. 1833
Cape St. George Light, St. George Island c. 1833 | Photo Credit: United States Coast Guard

In 1847, Congress approved funds to construct a new lighthouse at Cape St. George, 2 miles southeast. Using materials salvaged from the original lighthouse, the new 75-foot tower was built atop a shockingly shallow 18-inch foundation. This proved disastrous when just three years later in 1850, a hurricane undermined and toppled the misplaced lighthouse. That same hurricane also destroyed the nearby lights at Cape San Blas and Dog Island.

Undeterred, a third lighthouse was swiftly rebuilt at Cape St. George in 1851-52, this time situated farther inland on a sturdy foundation of pine pilings driven deep into the sand. The tower stood 77 feet tall, with walls tapered from 4 feet thick at the base to 2 feet at the top. Its third-order Fresnel lens shone over 15 miles out to sea, safely guiding ships into Apalachicola Bay once again.

Like all Gulf lighthouses, Cape St. George was darkened during the Civil War to hinder Union fleets. Confederate sympathizers removed the lens to protect it from damage. Not until 1865 was the light re-lit and the damaged lens replaced in 1899. Automation came in 1949, and by the 1990s the tower stood increasingly threatened by coastal erosion.

After Hurricane Opal shifted the tower off its foundation in 1995, the “Save the Light” campaign managed to right the precarious 7-degree lean. But relentless waves still lapped ever closer, finally toppling the beloved beacon in October 2005 after over 150 years of service.

How to Visit

Thanks to salvage efforts by the St. George Lighthouse Association, the Cape St. George Lighthouse has risen once more on St. George Island. Completed in 2008, the reconstructed tower and adjacent museum recreate the lighthouse’s historic presence on the island.

To embark on the Lighthouse ascent, visitors must meet the minimum height requirement of 40 inches. The climb comprises 92 wooden spiral stairs and an eight-rung metal ladder, culminating in access to the lantern room through a 24″ X 21″ scuttle hole. Standing tall at a height of 72 feet, the St. George Island Lighthouse promises beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico.

The St. George Island Lighthouse Museum proudly showcases a replica of the original keeper’s house that once graced Cape St. George Island until the late 1960s. Inside, visitors can explore its history, featuring artifacts from the original lighthouse and providing insights into the lives of its dedicated keepers. The museum serves as a captivating journey through time, offering a deeper understanding of the lighthouse’s rich history and the individuals who tended to its guiding light. Exhibits in the Keeper’s House detail the lighthouse’s tumultuous past through artifacts and images. Though no longer perched precariously on the eroding cape, this resurrected lighthouse continues shining as an enduring emblem of the island’s rich maritime legacy.

The lighthouse is located at 2B E Gulf Beach Dr on St. George Island.

Also, be sure to check out these 6 Tranquil Beach Houses to Reserve on St. George Island.

If you enjoyed reading this post or have visited the St. George Island Lighthouse before, leave a comment below or share this post on your favorite social media!

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