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The existing lighthouse, located on Anastasia Island in St. Augustine Florida is the second lighthouse to have been built in that area.
Florida was ceded to the United States in 1821. One of the initial things the U.S. Government decided to do was to establish a lighthouse at St. Augustine to aid sailors in navigating to or past the city.
The first lighthouse was completed on March 16, 1824. The tower was initially only 30 feet tall. It had ten Winslow Lewis lamps with 14-inch reflectors that were first lit on April 3, 1824. Sometime later the tower was raised to a height of 52 feet. A 4th-order Fresnel lens was added in 1855. The light was darkened during the Civil War but was re-lit 1867.
As with many lighthouses of the day, however, the first tower became threatened by the shore erosion and the encroaching ocean. By 1870 the government determined that a new lighthouse was needed. The tower was deactivated on October 15, 1874. The abandoned tower survived until 1880 when the ocean got the best of it and it crashed into the sea.
The government obtained five acres of land a little bit further inland and on higher ground and began construction of a new lighthouse in 1871. The lighthouse was designed by Paul J. Pelz, who later designed the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.. It was completed and activated on October 15, 1874. The new lighthouse was a beauty.
The tower is constructed of brick and stands 165 feet tall. The tower is painted with black and white spiral bands similar to the Cape Hatteras Light in North Carolina and has a red lantern room. The tower sits on an octagonal foundation that has an attached single-story entry building with a gabled roof. The entry building looks almost identical to the ones at Bodie Island Light and Currituck Beach Light, both in North Carolina. The entry building was used as a fuel storage house and as the lightkeeper’s office. Twelve granite steps lead from the entry house to the base of the tower. There are eight flights of cast iron stairs for a total of 202 steps leading to the watchroom and ten additional steps leading to the lantern room.
The lighthouse was equipped with a 1st-order Fresnel lens. The lens was designed with three bulls-eye lenses at 120 degrees apart. This created a light that was normally a fixed steady light but when the bulls-eye part of the lens rotated in front of the light, a higher intensity flash would be seen. The steady portion of the light can be seen for approximately 19 miles and the periodic flash can be seen for up to 24 miles. Before electricity, the light apparatus rotated in a nine-minute revolution and produced a flash every three minutes. When the light was electrified in 1936 the rotation was increased. Today the lens completes a rotation in 90 seconds resulting in a flash every 30 seconds. During WW II, the 1,000 watt bulb was replace with a 50 watt bulb to make the light less visible to the German submarines that sat offshore sinking our ships. The light was automated in 1955 and the last keeper, James L. Pippin, retired.
The lens was damaged by a rifle bullet shot by a local teenager in 1986. The Coast Guard was going to replace the lens with a modern optic but the Junior Service League of St. Augustine raised the 0,000 dollars needed to repair the lens. The lens was removed in 1991 and a temporary light installed. The lens was repaired and replaced in 1993, at which time the temporary light used during the repair was removed.
The brick two-story duplex keepers house was completed in 1876. The house has verandas up and down on both the front and the back with white trim. The head keeper and family occupied one side of the house and the assistant keepers with family occupied the other side. Two large cisterns in the basement collected rainwater from the roof gutters. In 1885 summer kitchens were added to both sides of the house. The tower and keeper’s house are the oldest surviving brick buildings in St. Augustine.