F. Hilton Crowe
November 30, 1938
St. "Augustine, Fla.
FLORIDA LIGHTHOUSES ST. AUGUSTINE
LIGHTHOUSES OF ST. AUGUSTINE.
Marking the entrance to the Port of St. Augustine, the lighthouse
on Anastasia Island has guided coastwise vessels on their course since
1872. This great -tower, curiously striped like a stick of old fashioned
mint-candy, rises from the oaks and cedars some 165 feet into clear air.
There is nothing to compare it with, not a hill or a rise of land; not
even a tall tree, and therefore, it looks gigantic, a tower built by
Titans rather than men.
Constructed of brick and iron during the years 1871-72 it is one of
the oldest lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast. The tower is in the'form
of a conical frustum that rests upon an octagonal base. Ten flights of
stairs, spiraling upward for 2300 steps, furnish access tothe watchroom
and lantern. Nine of these flights make a half revolution, but the tenth
flight makes a complete turn. This arrangement does away with the in-
cumbrance of a central shaft necessary to support a winding stairway, and
allows more room and a better lighted interior.
Like all else connected with the reservation, the interior of the
tower is immaculate. nWhite walls, unprofaned by smudges, and glistening
maroon hand rails create the illusion of being aboard a crack vessel of
the Navy, Windows at the landings make the grueling ascent more pleasant,
for here the climber may gain a moments respite by the harmless subterfu'ge"
of admiring the view. At the top of the stairs a small door opens upon :
the lantern room,
,The modern lighthouse lantern and lens system is a far cry from the
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patented "magnifying and reflecting .lantern", bought by the government-
in 1812. This apparatus is described as consisting of a lamp, a rflector,
and what was called the "magnifier". The reflector was a thin sheet of "
copper with the luster of tin ware, and was bout as. near to a true
parabolbid aq a barber's basin. Attached to a circular iron frame in
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front of the reflector was a lamp burning whale oil. Before this was a
so-called "lens" of bottle-green glass shaped like a ship's bull's-eye,
which was supposed to have some magnifying power. The entire.apparatus
was enclosed in a massive wrought-iron lantern, glazed with panes 10 by 12
inches in size. The effect of the whole was characterized by one of the
inspectors as "making a bad light worse", but later this system was commended
for its great saving in oil.
For years a poor light was the rule an good light the exception,
but the Lighthouse Board did away-with the reflector system in i852 and-
replaced it by the Fresnel lenticular apparatus. Soon the lenticular
system was in general use and wap adopted for St. Augustine Light at the :
time of its construction.
"Nothing can be more beautiful," says the great Scotch light-house
engineer, Alan Stevenson, "than the entire apparatus for a fixed light of
the first order.. It consists of a central belt of refractors, forming a
hollow cylinder six feet in diameter and 30 inches high; below it are six
triangular rings of glass, ranged in cylindrical form, and above a crownr .;
cof tthirteen rings of of glass, forming by their union a hollow cage composed
of.polished glass, ten feet high and six feet in diameter. I know of no .*i
'work of art more beautiful or creditable to the boldness, ardOr, intellige
.and seal of the artist."
Although the great lantern of the St. Augustine lighthouse is a larger'
and improved type of the apparatus mentioned so enthusiastically by
Stevenson, it merits equal praise for its beauty and excellence. Rotating
around the central lamp, the lens system emits a fixed light of 20,000 0
candlepower or 450,000 candlepower flash that is seen 25 miles at sea, The
lamp itself is stationary and the actual intensity of its flame does not
change. The variability of the light is secured by the revolution of the
glass lantern provided with a series of powerful lenses or bull's-eyes,
each one sending out a great beam of light. The constant and steady ray
from each lens revolves with the lantern, and this beam is distinctly
seen stretching out into the darkness, as it wheels in mighty revolutions
about the tower.
The purpose of the variability of the light is to render it dis-
tinguishable from other lights on the coast. Each lighthouse 'mits a
differently timed flash, the St. Augustine Light holding to a 30 second
flash revolving once every -one and a half minutes. By. day the tower is
known by its black and white spiral stripes which distinguish it from the
solid red of 1ayport Lighthouse or the horizontal black and white' stripes
of Cape Canaveral.
,The $16,000 lens system is-a thing of beauty as well, Sparkling
prisms connecting enormous bull's-eyes, cleave the light into a thousand
colors, with such a radiance that it is difficult to comprehend that the
small 1000 watt lamp in the center of the scintillating cylinder is the .
The illuminant of the Lighthouse Service has bben changed whenever .
a better one has been found. The "fier-balls of pitch and ocum" used iii
167 t t:Boston borpr, were, followed by the tallow, candles o
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n tturn giving way to fish .oil burned in the spider-lamps of Sandy Hooi. .
ra oili and vegetable oil next had their day, only to be succeeded .by
rdoil. This last naned fuel was the first illuminant 'f the St.
gstine Lighthouse, and seen today are the racks for the oil drums andzi
he tiny lamp used in 1872.
As early as 1855 the Lighthouse Board had made cautious experiments
hith the new "earth oil" or petroleum, but condemned it for its explosive
properties and for "its great volume cf smoak" However, one Keeper on
Lake Michigan determined to be a trail-blazer and used petroleum upon his
, own motion. Soon after commencing its use he attempted to extinguish the
.lamp by blowing down its chimney. Be seems to have made good time down
the tower for the report reads "He had scarcely reached the foot of the
aircase, with his clothes afire, when another explosion took place, which '
JIew the whole lantern from the tower and effectually destroyed the
i .With this catastrophe in mind, the Lighthouse Service took many years
o adopt the petroleum lamp, but finally St, Augustine Light was equipped ,
-th a mantel-lamp, which burned kerosene. 'The modern electrical equip- ..
nt is of recent date.
.: hen the tower was first built, the clockwork that revolves the lantern,
s8 operated by.a large weight in the manner of a grandfather clock,. .very'
SAiand half hours throughout the period of darkness, found the keeper
g .up a huge weight for the distance of about twenty.'feet. -"J'i..
od was unsatisfactory for many reasons, chief of which was that the
e n did not revolve accurately. Old log books of this era oftenabear.
ons: revolution'off 5 secst, "revolution off 6 -seo.8 I Z
In addition to the inaccuracy 0of the weight-driven mnohanism, the labor
of winds up the weight required a man on watah throughout the night, so
it was a happy day in St. Augustine when the electtically driven apparatus
was installed. Frequent checking by stop watch have proved the new.
mechanism very accurate and it is no longer necessary to have a man on
duty during the period of-darkness. Sileq and.tenantless, night after
night, the great lantern revolves alone, sending out its gleam to ships
beating away from a treacherous coast.
By day the tower is seen looming far above the surrounding terrain.
From the:.ind swept gallery encircling the massive lantern appears a
.most magnificent and far reaching view over sea and land. The green
seas of the Atlantic roll far beyond the eastern horizon, and to the
north lie the shimmering sand-dunes and the level pine-barrens of the
Florida coast. Southward stretches the-cedar covered expanse and coquin
rock quarries of Anastasia Island, while westward lies the spires of Old.
St. Augustine and the silver ribbons of the MLtanzas and San Sebastian -
The St. Augustine Lighthouse is operated by a Principal Keeper, s w,
Carl D. Daniels, and a First Assistant who have other duties also, such.
as the care of the harbor buys. When their work permits they are always
willing to escort visitors through their well kept establishment. Perhaps
their hardest job, however, occurs once every two years when the exterior .
of the 165 foot tower must be painted.' .
Weeks of preparation are necessary before the paint can be applied:.i
The entire tower mast be scraped of blistered and wind roughened pign ten
-'and the surface must be made smooth. Dangling out of a window. n a. all
ard, the.Kee ern. ma chip the rust from oveh ng cornice
reasts a 40 mi1e .gale, then riding the wind on a flimsy cradle the.. .
ers spiral downward the 165 feet to the bottom. First the long
ok band is painted thenthe white, and finally the lighthouse shine' a
its new coat, the result of eight hard days of work and danger. The
qiue appearance of the lighthouse is the subject of much comment among
he visitors to the city, who often inquire of the colored hack drivers.
iow and why the stripes are placed in such a novel manner. The answer
iL always the sane: "Yassum, de light house stripes use- to run up and
down; but de hurricane of 1880 twist em dat way."
The present lighthouse was built to take the place of an older
aoquina rock structure commonly known as the "Old Spanish Lookout", or
Old spanish Lighthouse". Although the exact date of its erection is
own, it is probable that it was constructed in 1695 from the proceeds
000 appropriated by the Council of the Indies for "building a stone
oivr as a lookout" The stone tower was enclosed by a high and thick wall'
erced with loop holes and having a salient angle to protect the gate.
within tthis fortification, the early Spanish kept a detachment of soldiers, a
nished with huts aand a chapel for their physical and. spiritual, consolation.
Vh ,ben the English came into possession of Florida in 1763, they raised
he picturesque old beacon sixty feet and planted a cannon to be fired when
-veassel came in sight. Small flag poles were mounted on north and south
pda and a flag was flown at either point to show the direction bf the 'z
coming 'ship. During the night a great fire of "light wood" or resinous
newas kept flaming to guide vessels from the shoals. ,
For generations the tides and breakers Grashing against tb.beach. of
asia recaptured the land, the nearer and nearer crept to the i
na-structure. Wave after wave undermined its foundations and then ,
back carryingits spoils. Finally on Sunday, June 20, 1880, a
atorm collapsed the decaying tower and it fell; as had fallen its '
predecessors. Not satisfied with this destruction, the sea' has
inued to encroach so that now the site of the stone beacon is in deep '
or. Only when some unlucky fisherman snags a hook on its mollusc-
sted fragments, is recalled the story of this ancient monument of the
SEven antedating the coquina lighthouse, were a succession of wooden
iokouts and beacons which kept in communication with the sentinel in the
n ,Carlos.tower of Castillo de San larcos. Gun shot or flags by day
Sed the signal of an approaching ship, or a blaze by night (perhaps
ier-balls and ocum") told the garrison of a stranger.
hn My 8, 1586, Thomas Cate's, Lieutenant in Drake's fleet informed
ncis that he spied a "place like a beacon or scaffold on foyr long
raised on end" and Drake entered the harbor, A marker on the re :.'
a on .tells the story of the burning of the town by the English in- .
8. Soperhaps the lighthouses of St. Augustine have not been an :
Sed blessing after all,
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