St. Marks Lighthouse

In Wakulla County the second oldest lighthouse in Florida stills stands sentinel over the shores of Apalachee Bay. The St. Marks Lighthouse also the second oldest lighthouse on the Gulf of Mexico has guided recreational, military and merchant vessels from around the world to the mouth of the St. Marks River for over 150 years. Constructed in 1831, the picturesque, highly photographed, whitewashed masonry tower and keeper’s quarters rest securely on a base of limestone rock taken according to local legend, from nearby Fort San Marcos de Apalache. It is located on the north side of Apalachee Bay on the east side of the entrance to the St. Marks River. It was critical that the river entrance be clearly visible against the low coast lined with many trees and riddled with treacherous oyster beds and shoals. The flashing light from the 80 foot tower can be seen for up to 15 miles out.

The St. Marks Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in Florida with wooden stairs. There are 72 of them, followed by an additional 13 iron ship stairs that lead up to the watchtower. The lighthouse walls are four feet thick at the base narrowing to 18 inches deep at the top.  The keeper’s house is attached to the tower increasing the overall strength of the building that has withstood over 100 hurricanes. The first tower built 1829-30 but did not meet original strength specifications, so a second tower was rebuilt in 1831. Because of erosion, yet another tower was built on its present location in 1842.

Lighthouse keepers were in the U.S. Lighthouse Service which eventually became the Coast Guard. There have been a total of 21 keepers of the St. Marks Lighthouse, two of them were women. Entire large families lived in the small keeper’s quarters. The keeper’s job was to climb to the tower twice a day to keep the kerosene lanterns filled and the wicks trimmed. It was most important to always keep the flame burning. The flame did go out once during the Civil War when the Union blockaded Apalachee Bay and burned the lighthouse stairs. After their defeat at the Battle of Natural Bridge and the war had ended, the stairs and keeper’s house were rebuilt and the lamps to the new fourth-order Fresnel lens burned bright again. The light has never gone dark since.

In 1931 the St. Marks Migratory Bird Refuge was created around the St. Marks Lighthouse and a road to the lighthouse was constructed. In 1960, the light was automated and eliminated the need for keepers. A modern solar powered light was installed in 2000.  Ownership of the St. Marks Lighthouse was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and planning has now begun for repair and restoration.

The St. Marks Lighthouse is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The lighthouse grounds are accessible within the National Wildlife Refuge but for now the tower is only open to the public on special occasions. Future plans are to open the lighthouse as a museum and historic site. Refuge open daily during daylight hours. $5 entrance fee. Contact (850) 925-6121.

Hours & Details

History & Culture
1255 Lighthouse Rd.
St. Marks, Florida 32355
(850) 925-6121