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Thursday, January 18, 2018

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

There is something about a lighthouse.  They way they perch over rocky shorelines or stand on wide expanses of sandy beaches makes me swoon.  Then there is the whole romantic notion of the keepers who worked around the clock to maintain these towers, serving as a beacon of light to sailors out at sea who use the light to safely return home.  You've probably seen an array of lighthouses on this blog from my home base in Stonington Point, to the little light where I went to school, to the beautiful brick lights on Block Island, or maybe even the blocky structure in Iceland.  A historic building on the edge of the coast with a breeze and a backdrop..... I love me a lighthouse. 

KW Visited Lighthouses

These pillars of light perched on our sandy shorelines are so often full of history, charm, and the occasional ghost story.  New England especially has a large concentration of historic lighthouses.  America’s first lighthouse stood in Boston Harbor in 1716 and many colonies in New England followed suit.  New England colonies started the practice of collecting light dues from ships using their ports as a way of paying for the lighthouses’ operation.  In 1789, our government passed an act that assumed financial responsibility for lighthouses and navigational aids in the country, taking away the notion of light dues.  

St. Augustine Lighthouse between the trees

Lighthouses now dot our rugged coastlines and here on the east coast can be found from the top of main to the tip of Florida, serving as a navigational aid and a piece of living history for visitors to see.  When my wandering brought me to Northern Florida, I was eager to see (and learn about) one of the sunshine states lighthouses and the view from the top. 

Entrance to the Lighthouse Visitor's Center

Florida is home to 11 lighthouses, one in a the area that claims to be the oldest continuously settled City in the United States, St. Augustine.  This lighthouse has a great museum that with paid admission, allows you to climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse as the keepers once did for a spectacular view of the city and coastline below.  The prominent and iconic black and white swirling building with its red top can easily be seen as you drive through Saint Augustine. 

Artifacts in the Visitor's Center

First Impressions
A chance to climb to the top of the lighthouse.  Each landing on the way up has great fun facts and history lessons you can read while you stop to catch your breath.  The view from the top is spectacular and I was able to climb the tower on a cool clear day.  The museum and the grounds were well kept and the staff friendly and helpful.  The gift shop was quaint and I was sure to purchase an ornament for my "travel tree". 

Fun facts at the landings on your way to the top of the lighthouse 

View from the top of the lighthouse

Need to Know
Before you gawk at having to pay admission,  admission to the lighthouse helps keeps the museum running and the light on---the Museum now operates the site as a private-aid-to-navigation and literally keeps the light shining.   As the Executive Director said, "Unlike many non profit organizations we receive no regular, federal operations support. When you visit you help us with our mission to save six historic structures, and over 19,000 artifacts and archival documents".  A wristband gets you out the back door and into the small park-like area surrounding the lighthouse.

Adult - $12.95
Senior - $10.95
Child under 12 (and 44" or taller) - $10.95
Under 44 inches: **Children MUST be 44 inches tall to climb the tower. Children under 44" tall receive free museum admission

Parking:  Large lot- free!

Hours:  9am to 6pm or during our extended summer hours of 9am to 7pm. 
Behind the scenes tours: 11am, 12pm, 1pm 2pm 3pm (included with admissions) 

Extra Attractions 
"Don't get stuck looking over the fence! Take the only tour that gets you in the Lighthouse at night, the most haunted place in St. Augustine. Conduct your own paranormal investigation or join a guided tour of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum on this exclusive guided ghost tour that’s been featured on TAPS/Ghost Hunters, CNN, Parade Magazine, Fox News and The Weather Channel".

About to climb the lighthouse

  • This structure originally a Spanish watchtower, built in the late 1500's was the predecessor of the present St. Augustine Lighthouse. 
  • St. Augustine is the site of the oldest, permanent aid to navigation in North America. A series of wooden watchtowers evolved into Florida's first lighthouse
  • The Lighthouse is St. Augustine's oldest surviving brick structure
  • By 1870, this "Old Spanish Watchtower" was threatened by shoreline erosion and the US Congress appropriated $100K for a new tower. 
  • Construction began in 1871, and it continued for the next three years. Alabama brick and Philadelphia iron work combined with a new hand-blown, nine-foot-tall, Fresnel lens, from Paris, France. 
  • This beacon was installed and lit in October of 1874 by head keeper William Russell and 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, a triplex that held two families and a young, single, 2nd assistant keeper, 
  • During World War II armed Coastguardsmen stood guard atop the tower, fixed jeeps in the 1836 garage and lived in a small barracks building.  
  • The old tower succumbed to the sea during a storm in 1880. 
  • Lightkeepers' and their assistants lived and worked at the Light Station until the tower was automated in 1955. 

Windows and stairway to the top of the lighthouse

Fun Facts about Visiting the Lighthouse 
from Saint Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
  • The Museum opened to the public full time in May of 1994
  • The Museum today serves 225,000 visitors each year.
  • Visitors can climb 219 steps up the historic lighthouse
  • St. Augustine is the oldest continually occupied European port city in the continental United States.
  • The St. Augustine Lighthouse rises 165 feet above sea level and contains 219 steps that are climbed by visitors. 
  • The St. Augustine lens consists of 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape towering twelve feet tall and six feet in diameter.
  • In 2002, the Museum won the National Trust for Historic Preservation‘s National Preservation Award for helping to pass the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. 
  • The Museum was given the Lighthouse tower and Fresnel lens by the USCG via the National Park Service and the General Services Administration. 
  • The Museum purchased the remainder of the 6.5-acre light station in 2016 from St. Johns County. 
  • The Museum now operates the site as a private-aid-to-navigation and literally keeps the light shining. 

Making my way up to the top

If you are in Northern Florida, this is a great chance to climb a historic and still working lighthouse in the nations oldest port.  Admission to the museum supports many educational and research efforts, as well as preserving the lighthouse and running the light.  The grounds are well kept and the chance to learn about this piece of history while climbing the tower is a unique experience.  

View from the top of the lighthouse


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