Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Lighthouses of the Forgotten Coast

My middle son is the lighthouse aficionado, the one who always says yes to climb to the top of the many lighthouses we’ve encountered in our travels. Our recent trip to Florida’s panhandle was no different, and although Lauris joined us on one of our climbs, it was mostly up to Mikus and me to scale these historic beacons and report back to the rest of the crew.

View over St. Joseph Bay including smoke from prescribed burn on T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Our trip started on the east end of the panhandle, and on a day trip to Wakulla Springs State Park we were delighted to find a brochure detailing the “Lighthouse Driving Tour of Florida’s Forgotten Coast.” First on the tour is St. Mark’s Lighthouse, the second oldest in Florida. Built in 1842, the tower stands on the shores of Apalachee Bay at the mouth of the St. Marks River. My first visit to the lighthouse was in 2005 during a visit to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, and everything looks much the same as it did then. 85 steps to the lantern room, 4 foot thick tower walls, a whitewashed exterior. The tower is not currently open to climbing, although the Keeper’s House is open the first Saturday of most months from 1-4pm.

St. Mark's Lighthouse

Continuing west on the tour route we drove through Carrabelle to the Crooked River Lighthouse. Open to visitors Saturdays and Sundays 1-4pm, we missed our chance to climb. However the 103ft iron and steel construction is not your typical lighthouse, and we were glad we didn’t skip turning into the public park. For 120 years the lighthouse was a guiding light over the pass between Dog and St. George Islands, decommissioned only in 1995 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A bicycle path and picnic area are also located in the park, along with a replica Keeper’s House which serves as a museum and gift shop on the weekends.

Crooked River Lighthouse

Three beacons on Dog Island were destroyed over the years, as well as three on St.George Island. The Cape St. George Light is the fourth reconstruction, located at the very center of the Island just as visitors arrive over the Bryant Patton Bridge. The first lighthouse was built near West Pass but was dismantled after being damaged by storms, and reconstructed a year later in 1848. That one fell during a hurricane in 1851, and was replaced by a third lighthouse a year later and further inland. This lighthouse served for 153 years, but ultimately succumbed to erosion, collapsing in October of 2005. Volunteers salvaged over 22,000 original bricks, and in 2008 the Cape St. George Light was successfully rebuilt and opened to the public. A replica of the Keeper’s House functions as a museum and gift shop; the lighthouse is open daily except Thursdays, hours vary by season.

Cape St. George Light

The final lighthouse on the Forgotten Coast tour is the Cape San Blas Lighthouse. I vacationed on Cape San Blas over 13 years ago and had visited the lighthouse then; I warned Mikus that we would not be able to visit this one, as the drive out to Cape San Blas involves a trip all the way out on St. Joseph’s peninsula. Wasn’t I surprised to see the lighthouse just a block off of our route while passing through Port St. Joe on the mainland! It turns out that the 130 year old structure was originally built at the tip of the cape to replace multiple destroyed brick lighthouses, and was only moved to Port St. Joe in 2014. I urge you to visit this website for the full history of Lights on Cape San Blas; it seems that the Cape is cursed when it comes to lighthouses, as even the ship that was carrying the new lighthouse sank on its way to the Cape and the material had to be salvaged from the water (not to mention the Civil War attack the Light suffered in 1862!). Mikus and I happily paid a small fee in the historic Maddox House Welcome Center before climbing the 138 steps for a grandiose view of St. Joseph Bay. In the meantime the rest of the boys paid a visit to the small beach, and before long we joined them for a final hurrah on the sands of the Forgotten Coast before heading on to Panama City.

Cape San Blas Lighthouse

This wasn’t the end of our panhandle lighthouse experience, as we would continue our adventures on the Emerald Coast, including a climb up the Pensacola Lighthouse. However it was a fitting end to our time on the Forgotten Coast and as we continued west we took one last look at the Cape San Blas Light, now just a tiny mark on the horizon.

A few points on logistics when visiting the lighthouses:
The tour brochure estimates that if combining a visit to all four the trip would take 6 hours, allowing 1 hour at each lighthouse.
Remember there are height requirements to climb the lighthouses, please check the individual websites for regulations, hours and fee information.
St. Marks Lighthouse: www.stmarkslighthouse.net
Crooked River Lighthouse: www.crookedriverlighthouse.org
Cape St. George Light: www.stgeorgelight.org
Cape San Blas Lighthouse: www.capesanblaslight.org

1 comment:

  1. Your middle son and I have something in common. I love lighthouses also... In fact, if I had the time, I'd travel all over the country just photographing lighthouses (like we have done waterfalls since 2001)..... I don't know why but they intrigue me...

    We planned a trip to New England several years ago and had a lot of lighthouses and covered bridges on our agenda. However, a big big storm came through that area and did so much damage that we postponed that trip... We never have gotten up there...

    You have some great pictures of lighthouses... Have that son put together a little booklet filled with different lighthouses and info about them.... That might be a good project for him..



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