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Friends of St. Marks
Wildlife Refuge
PO Box 368
St. Marks, FL 32355

Phone: (850) 925-6121

Email for more information

Photo Credits

 

The St. Marks Lighthouse
A National Historic Landmark

lighthouse photo present dayWithstanding numerous storms, the St. Marks Lighthouse has been a navigational beacon for over a century and a half, guiding recreational, military, and merchant vessels from around the world to the mouth of the St. Marks River.

The structure consists of the light keeper's house attached to the 88 - foot tower, both resting on a 12- foot thick limestone base. According to local legend, the limestone blocks are from the ruins of old Fort San Marcos de Apalachee. Eighty-five steps spiral up the brick tower to the lantern room; the first seventy-two are wood and the last thirteen are iron. The tower walls are four- feet thick at the base, tapering to 18 inches at the top.  From 1867 until 2014 the lantern room contained a fourth order Fresnel lens. Read more about the characteristics of the lens. Over the years, oil, kerosene, and electricity have powered the lamp which can be seen in the range of 12 - 14 miles, depending on light conditions. The St. Marks tower has always been white with a black lantern top. The keeper's house has four- foot thick brick walls with twelve windows and two chimneys. Two exterior doors open onto the long covered porch.

( photo credit above,Lou Kellenberger)

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LIGHTHOUSE HISTORY

View Historical images of the Lighthouse

1st LIGHTHOUSE
In 1828 the U.S. House of Representatives passed an act authorizing the construction of a lighthouse at St. Marks. A contract was signed with Winslow Lewis of Boston for a tower in the St. Marks area for $11,765. In March 1830, the local customs inspector refused to accept the completed tower for the U.S. Government citing that the contract had called for solid walls not the hollow wall that Lewis had constructed. It was rebuilt and accepted in 1831. This tower was located near the bay end of the boat canal and is now underwater. Erosion forced the tower to be rebuilt again with double walls in its present location in 1842. The first lighthouse keeper was Samuel Crosby (1830–1839), followed by Benjamin Metcalf (1839–1841) and then Capt. J. P Hungerford (1841–1844), whose family survived the terrible hurricane of 1843 by escaping to the attic but fifteen others in the dwelling drowned. See all lighthouse keepers.

ANTEBELLUM LIGHTHOUSE
Needham Dudley (1844–1850) was the keeper when Florida became a state in 1845, followed by his wife, Mrs. Ann Dudley (1850–1854), who became the first woman light keeper at St. Marks. Three large hurricanes hit the lighthouse in the 1850s. One destroyed the 160- foot- long sea wall, six- feet thick and ten- feet high that had been built in 1844. In the 1851 storm Ann Dudley lost almost all her worldly possessions totaling around $1,100. Her petition to Congress for compensation went unheeded. David Kennedy became the keeper in 1860 which he held before, during and after the Civil War.

CIVIL WAR—1899
The Union blockaded Apalachee Bay during the Civil War and burned the lighthouse stairs to keep it from being used as a lookout post by the Confederates. In March 1865 a fleet of 16 ships landed around 1,000 Union troops near the lighthouse. Their defeat at Natural Bridge on March 6 kept Tallahassee from being occupied by the Union forces during the war. After the war, the tower and keeper's house were rebuilt and light keeper David Kennedy relit the lamp on January 8, 1867. A new fourth-order Fresnel lens had been installed. This lens has recently been restored, and it is on display in the Refuge Visitor Center. In 1873 yet another hurricane forced the family into the tower where they survived the night. Later repairs were undertaken to the house and tower and the porch, still extant, was added. Light keeper George Gibson left in 1891, and he was replaced by Charles O. Fine.

TWENTIETH CENTURY
Old LighthouseCharles Fine died in 1905 and his wife Sarah became the second woman light keeper at St. Marks. One of her daughters, Lela Fine was born there, married there and lived mostLela Fine age 13 of her life there after her husband, John Young Gresham, becamekeeper in 1916. During Gresham's tenure, a cistern, kitchen, outhouse, picket fence, boathouse and dock, and a maintenance building were added. For the first time, the keeper's children were educated by a teacher in a one-room combination house and school room. Also, St. Marks Migratory Bird Refuge was created in 1931, as was the road leading to the lighthouse. Also at this time, in 1935, the U.S. Treasury Department issued an instructional list for all keepers of lighthouses.

His son, Alton Gresham succeeded him in 1957 and so became the last light keeper at St. Marks, as the light was automated in 1960. In 1974, the St. Marks Lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The light from the Fresnel lens was extinguished in 2000 when the USCG installed a modern solar powered light.

PRESENT DAY
Late in 2013, ownership of the St. Marks Lighthouse was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The official ceremony on the transfer occurred March 28, 2014. Immediate efforts were put in motion by a newly-established Friends’ Lighthouse Fundraising Committee to raise funds necessary for renovations to preserve this coastal landmark.

Initial funding from the Florida Lighthouse Association allowed for an important condition assessment and taking necessary steps to protect the historic Fourth Order Fresnel lens in the lantern room. The condition assessment provided the basis for estimates of costs needed to restore the lighthouse. The lens was removed from the lantern room in November 2014.  Through volunteer efforts by the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association, the lens was faithfully cleaned and conserved and is on display at the Visitor Center.

Follow-up funding was made possible by a Duke Energy Foundation grant and grant funding from the Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources. These funds were designated for repairs to the lantern room, as well as the larger task of restoration of the lighthouse tower and keeper’s quarters.  The Florida Legislature approved the DOS grant funding, and that money became available in July 2016. The Friends, with assistance of Wilderness Graphics, conducted a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise additional funds needed to supplement the costs of restoring the lantern room. While the restoration of the lantern room was completed in August 2016, the more extensive job of restoring the tower and keeper’s quarters began that same month. 

The Friends group has applied for funds to address accessibility for people with disabilities and to research, construct and install professional museum exhibits in the restored keeper’s quarters that will document the important history of the lighthouse and the region.  Additional funding will also provide restrooms, reconstruction of the historic cistern, picket fence, brick walkways and relighting the lens inside the lantern room. Donations are gratefully accepted to help us continue lighthouse restoration.

LIGHTHOUSE FACTS

  • Characteristics: Occulting white light every four seconds (electric flasher)
  • Height: 82 feet to focal plane; 88 feet total height; 85 steps to the top
  • DayMark: Whitewashed conical brick tower with a black lantern
  • History: Constructed 1829–1830, 1842. First Lighted 1831, 1842
  • Listed on the National Register
  • Lens: Original: Fifteen Lewis-Argand lamps with fourteen-inch reflectors; Winslow Lewis (1831). Present: Fourth-order fixed Fresnel lens; Henry-Lepaute (1867). Focal Plane: 82 feet.
  • Construction: Architect Winslow Lewis. Builder: Benjamin Beal and Jairus Thayer (first tower); Calvin Knowlton (second and third towers). Conical brick tower constructed of brick and iron.
  • Other Buildings: Attached 1871 keeper's dwelling.
  • Coordinates: 30 04 18 N, 84 10 48 W
  • Operated by: United States Coast Guard & St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
  • U.S.C.G. District: 8
  • ARLHS No.: USA-801

VIDEO - "The Lighthouse Tale" — A video filmed at The St. Marks Lighthouse. This music video, set in the 1850's, is a classic love story revolving around the often tragic life of the American lighthouse worker. The video is based on Nickel Creek's recording "A Lighthouse Tale".

LIGHTHOUSE BOOKS AND GIFTS IN THE NATURE STORE

Various books and items related to the St. Marks Lighthouse, and to lighthouses in general, are available for purchase in the Nature Store located in the Refuge's Visitor Center, located about 7 miles north of the Lighthouse, on Lighthouse Road. All profits from sales go to support Refuge programs.

For information on open hours, address, map and more, go to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge or call at 850-925-6121.

The Florida Lighthouse Association's (FLA) mission is to safeguard Florida's remaining lighthouses for future generations by supporting community based restoration, preservation and education efforts.

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Copyright: St. Marks Refuge Association, 2013