St Augustine has so much history that it was very hard to decide which historical sites we should explore during our 2 day stay. I always have had a fetish for lighthouses. When I found out that St Augustine had one of the oldest lighted watch towers in America, it shot straight up to the top of my list of things to see. The 140 foot maritime archeological site is an active Lighthouse that shines its piercing light into the night’s darkness. In 1824 St Augustine became the site for Florida’s first light station. Like most all the historical structures in and around the oldest city in America, the lighthouse is built on a barrier reef with locally mined conquina rock.
We started our lighthouse tour with a quick overview of the area from our guide Bev Henry. Bev is a retired educator and practicing historian. She is very knowledgeable regarding the history and archeological findings off the island’s barrier reefs that weave all around the dangerous channel. St Augustine was a vital port for the endless stream of Spaniard ships filled with supplies.
The Keepers House was the beginning point of our guided tour. It is filled with lots of archeological findings that were discover and restored on-site. The house is filled with artifacts that describe how the caretakers lived and maintained the lighthouse.
The Keepers House also displays the different lens that guided the mighty sailing vessels through the treacherous channel. The various methods created light that passes through the hand cut glass, which in turn allows the intense beam of light to been seen for miles. The current lighthouse combines a 1000 watts of light with 370 hand cut glass prisms that helps navigate the approaching captains. From where we are staying in St Augustine, you can witness the circling beam of light orbiting the night sky.
Our tour took us all through the late 1800’s structure that housed the keeper and his family. There were sometimes multiple keepers to maintain the tower and its light. They had to carry buckets of kerosene and oil up the stairs to keep the nightlight burning. In the 1960’s the lighthouse converted to automation and the keepers were no longer needed. In 1970 the county bought the historical site and in the 1980’s restoration began on the failing structures. There are many relics throughout the house that depict the lighthouse’s historical purpose. Bev did a fantastic job explaining most all of the artifacts.
Not only is the site a historical venue, but also a major source for valuable archeological studies. The are hundreds of shipwreck remains stacked on top of each other beneath the channel’s dangerous entrance. The archeologist have recovered Cannons (pictured, left), a ship rudder (pictured, right) and many other articles that were carried in their cargo holds. We got an opportunity to see the on-site laboratories and parts of the restoration process. The work they have done and are doing currently provides lots of history regarding Florida’s early Maritime roots. There is also a tent that illustrates some boat building technics. The craftsmanship can be observed up close, but don’t touch!
Our next stop is the lighthouse itself. The 140 foot towering structure (shown at the beginning of the article) lights up the sky over the oldest port in America. The temperature on this mid-August morning is hovering in the high 80’s with a 75% humidity factor. This gives us a feel like temperature in the upper 90’s. Climbing the 219 steps to the observation tower can and will test your minimum physical abilities.
As you climb the metal steps there are level resting areas at every flight of stairs. If you are in fairly good health and have a little patience and common sense, the trip to the observation deck is well worth the energy. Drink plenty of fluids and use any type of assistance you might need.
On the way up to the red-tipped tower there are windows that not only offer fresh air, but a prelude to the great views (pictured, right) you will experience once you reach the top. When we walked through the doorway and combined the refreshing sea breeze with the spectacular views, it will absolutely take your breath away.
You can see for miles. It gives you a fantastic opportunity to view the beautiful island of Anastasia. The landscape is so amazing. It seems like you can see the ends of the world and all points in between. The panoramic view lets you know that there are plenty of adventures out there to seek, find and explore.
This ends our tour for today. St Augustine and the surrounding area has so many monumental sites. The few days that we are here won’t even allow us enough time to see half the historical landmarks St Augustine has to offer.