There has been a watchtower or lighthouse on this site since the Spanish built the first tower in the late 16th century. The current lighthouse was completed in 1874, followed by the addition of a lighthouse keeper's house two years later. Both structures were built of Alabama brick.
We chose not to spend the money / take the time to climb the 219 steps to the top as the day was becoming cool and cloudy (probably obscuring the view) and we also had the issue of what to do with our doggy traveling pal. We did take turns looking around the sizable gift shop, and strolling the grounds, but not take time to visit the museum.
The lighthouse has a long history and was first built of stone by Spanish in 1683, that lasted for decades going into centuries. The original purpose was to guard against attack and it became a lookout. Late it was used to guide ships through treacherous waters and it is located on Anastasia Island, just off the coast. When this area became US province in 1821, it was then the lighthouse. Later rebuilt in 1870 became of eminent collapse of the stone structure.
A small museum -sort of-is inside with lighthouse aritifacts and items to view.
The Saint Augustine Lighthouse was built in 1874 and is the second lighthouse on this site. This is a 165 foot-tall brick tower which was restored in the 1980s by local civic organizations. Other structures at the site include the keeper's house from 1876 and kitchens built in 1886. At the base of the tower is a visitors center and museum.
On this same site in the late 1500s, the Spanish colonists had a wooden watchtower. By the 1730s the Spanish had replaced the wooden tower with one made of coquina stone (the same material used to build the Castillo de San Marcos). In 1819, the American government took control of Spanish Florida, and in 1824 the first lighthouse was established in the new territory, here at Saint Augustine using the Spanish watchtower as the base. By the 1870s the lighthouse was in danger of falling into the ocean due to erosion, so the present structure was built. The ruins of the original lighthouse are still visible in the ocean at low tide.
A historical marker at the lighthouse reads:
SENTINELS OF THE COAST
Since early times, coastal towers were important in the defense of St. Augustine. From the wooden lookout here in 1586, Spanish sentries warned of approaching English raiders under Sir Francis Drake. Later the tower was built of stone. It served during the 1740 siege, was converted to a lighthouse in 1823 and used until it was lost to the sea. The present light replaced it in 1874.
St. Johns County Historical Commission In Cooperation With Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials
The first "watch tower" was constructed in St. Augustine by the Spanish in the 16th century. The tower was made of wood and was located on the north end of Anastasia Island. In 1586, Sr. Francis Drake navigated his ship into the port of St. Augustine using the watch tower as a landmark, and proceeded to pillage and burn the city and the tower.
In 1737, a second tower of coquina stone was constructed to replace the first tower. In 1763, the British took control of St. Augustine and made improvements to the tower for use as a "light" to aid in navigation. "St. Augustine became the site of the first lighthouse established in Florida by the new, territorial, American Government in 1824." (Wikipedia) Due to beach erosion, the lighthouse keeper's residence ultimately fell into the ocean in 1878 and the tower collapsed during a storm in 1880.
Construction on the third and current lighthouse began in 1871, and was completed in 1874. The tower is 165' tall and there are 219 steps to the observation deck. Children under 44" are not permitted to climb. Visitors are not permitted in the lens room, however, weather permitting, visitors can walk out onto the observation deck and peer into the lens. The tower is built with bricks (said to be 1.2 million) on a concrete foundation, and its design is the same as the Currituck and Bodie Island Light (North Carolina), with a different paint scheme. The Light became fully automated in 1955, eliminating the need for a lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse is maintained by The Junior Service League of St. Augustine. The view on a clear day is amazing; and at night the light can be seen from many locations around St. Augustine.
The light keeper's house was built in 1876. In 1970, the house was gutted by fire. It was restored and became the Lightner Museum, and contains exhibits depicting life and work at the lighthouse. Souveniers, books, and memorabilia can be purchased in the gift shop.
The lighthouse is said to be haunted, however, none of the seven deaths attributed to the lighthouse actually occurred in the current lighthouse. Myth has it that a mariner hung himself in the house, but no proof of that claim has been found. In 1853, John Carrera, the keeper of the first light, died at the lighthouse. In 1859, the second Head Keeper, Joseph Andreu, fell to his death from the lighthouse, and his wife Maria became the first female Head Keeper. In 1889, William Harn, died of tuberculosis while still Head Keeper. His wife, Kate become Second Assistant Keeper upon his death. The wife of Head Keeper Mantia died at the lighthouse in 1894; details concerning her death are unknown. Three young girls (2 daughters of the Head Keeper, and a daughter of a servant or worker) drowned during the construction of the current tower, when the rail car in which they were playing left the tracks and fell into the water.
The lighthouse and museum are open for tours until 6:00 PM most days; until 7:00 PM during July and some holidays. The lighthouse is closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. DARK OF THE MOON TOUR is available 8:30 and 10:30 pm; 8:30 on Sundays -(Experience darkness at the lighthouse and hear paranormal tales.)
The landmark that is the St. Augustine Lighthouse is not to be missed. It's history, aesthetic and exhilarating views from the top are a memorable experience. The lighthouse is beautifully maintained and the you get a great perspective on the lay of the land that is St. Augustine.
The only access to the top is via the stairs, and it's a tall lighthouse!
A very worthwhile visit- fun and educational as well! The whole complex has been throughly restored. The lighthouse keeper's quarters are now a comprehensive museum with many displays and artifacts.
The trip up to the top envolves more than 200 steps. There are about 9 flights of cast iron semi-circular steps. To think that for many years the keepers had to carry buckets of oil up all those steps to keep the wick burning!
This lighthouse has a 1st order Fresnel lens, which is the largest at 9 ft high. It is a series of circular prisms stacked on top of each other designed to catch and direct all the light possible horizontally- very impressive to see up close!
The view from the top makes the effort worth it.
Admission is $8 adults, $6 children 6-11.
Only 219 steps to the top and you will have breathtaking views of St. Augustine and surrounding waterways, from ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE.
In the Museum part, you can view the working first order Fresnel lens. See shipwreck artifacts retrieved from local waters.
Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
We see the black and white lighthouse every time we come across the harbor and go south to St. Augustine. I had seen it only from the car or boat. The second photo has an inset picture is from the river north of the St. Augustine Inlet. The main picture is from closer to the lighthouse in the inlet, but also farther west.
We visited the lighthouse in January 2005, but we did not climb to the top of the 165' tower. I didn't think my knees would take it or my heart either and later when I did climb the Key West lighthouse, I was proved more than right about that. It would have been fun to see the inlet from above though. Admission to the Museum and Tower is $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for Seniors and $5.00 for Children ages 5-11.
We had already seen the extensive exhibit at Ponce Lighthouse on the Fresnel lenses, so I wasn't really gung ho on paying the admission just to the Museum of $5 for adults, $4 for Seniors and $3 for Children ages 5-11.
The other thing you can see here is the artifacts from shipwrecks lost in the treacherous St. Augustine inlet.
Open daily from 9am to 6pm with extended summer and holiday hours
Admission was about $8 for the Lighthouse and museum and cheaper for just the museum. You could not pay just to see the Lighthouse.
Make sure to see the lens and lighbulb when you are at the top of the Lighthouse. It can get windy at the top you might want to bring a jacket or windbreaker.
You can pick up a scavenger hunt at the main entrance to make things a little more interesting; there is also a scavenger hunt for kids.
The view was great. This is a must see if you are visiting St. Augustine for the first time.
To get to the top of the lighthouse you have to climb 219 stairs so save your energy for an great view!
There are education programs for kids of all ages, gift store, museum.
Open daily from 9:00-6:00pm
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