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The History of the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse began as the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse with the purchase of ten acres of land on March 21, 1883. Francis Hopkinson Smith, a noted writer and engineer, designed the lighthouse, and it was declared by lighthouse inspectors to be 'the most beautiful and best proportioned tower in the district.' Chief Engineer Orville E. Babcock drowned in the inlet as construction was to begin in 1883, but the tower was completed four years later, despite being rocked by the great Charleston Earthquake in 1886.
The kerosene lamp in the first-order fixed Fresnel lens (made by Barbier et Fenestre in Paris in 1867) was first lighted on November 1, 1887, by Keeper William Rowlinski. The new light could be seen 20 miles to sea. (See: Thomas W. Taylor, 'Building the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse,' The Keeper's Log, Fall, 1994, pp. 2-9)
Rowlinski, a Russian immigrant, served until 1893 when he transferred to a lighthouse in South Carolina. When he retired in 1902, he would buy a house on the Halifax River right next to his old lighthouse here at Mosquito Inlet. Rowlinski was succeeded as principal keeper by Thomas Patrick O'Hagan, a staunch Irish Catholic, who moved to the Light Station with his wife and four children. Before he left in 1905, O'Hagan would have seven more children before moving on to the Amelia Island Light Station.
In 1897, while O'Hagan was here, author Stephen Crane was shipwrecked off shore.John Lindquist, a Swede, became Principal Keeper in 1905. In 1907 a new well was dug and a windmill and water tank tower was built to provide a more reliable water supply. In 1909, the kerosene lamp was replaced by an incandescent oil vapor (O.I.V.) lamp. Lindquist served until 1924.
The 1920's were a period of great change at the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse. In 1925, under Principal Keeper Charles L. Sisson, a generator was installed in a new small building and electricity was brought into the keeper's homes for the first time. An electric water pump replaced the old windmill. In 1927, the name of Mosquito Inlet was changed to PONCE DE LEON INLET.
John B. Butler became Principal Keeper in 1926, and in August, 1933, the tower light was electrified with a 500 watt electric lamp. At the same time, the old first-order fixed lens was replaced by a third-order revolving, flashing lens. The positions of the assistant keepers were abolished, but a 'relief keeper was stationed here to lend a hand. After Edward L. Meyer became Principal Keeper in 1937, a radio beacon was established in a vacant dwelling on the south side of the Light Station.
In 1939, the Lighthouse was transferred from the abolished Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard, and Edward L. Meyer, the last civilian Keeper at this station joined the Coast Guard. During World War II, the keepers' families left the Light Station, and the buildings were turned into barracks for the Coast Guardsmen who protected the light and stood watch against enemy submarines. Meyer related many exciting times in the Light Station Journal during the war.
After the war, families moved back, but in late 1953, the lighthouse was completely automated, and the keepers and their families left for the last time. In 1970, the Coast Guard abandoned the old Light Station and established a new light at the Coast Guard Station on the south side of the Inlet. Vandals did much damage, but two years later, the abandoned property was deeded to the Town of Ponce Inlet.
In 1972, the Ponce deLeon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association was founded as a non-profit, organization to assist the Town of Ponce Inlet with the restoration and management of the Light Station. In 1972, the Light Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of only a handful of 19th Century Light Stations to have all its original buildings still intact.
Through the efforts of the dedicated volunteers of the Preservation Association, the damage done by vandals was reversed and full restoration was begun. In 1982, a new tower balcony replaced the crumbling one, and the light in the lantern was restored to active service. The three keepers' dwellings have been turned into museums: a lighthouse museum, a sea museum, and a period house museum. In 1995, the First-Order lens from Cape Canaveral was restored and placed on display in a new building.
Written Oct 4, 2002
Favorite thing: I went to the top of the lighthouse and took pictures of the Inlet.
Fondest memory: The veiw was spectacular.
This is my picture of the lighthouse.
Written Oct 4, 2002