There’s just something about lighthouses that inspire us to dream big and consider all of life’s possibilities. Perhaps it’s because they are located where the land meets the sea, standing as a beacon for those who are willing to traverse the globe. Whatever the case may be, one of the most historic and beautiful lighthouses in Florida, the St. Marks Lighthouse, is located right here in Wakulla County.
The St. Marks Lighthouse is located at the mouth of the St. Marks river, and looks out over the stunning Apalachee Bay. Its lamps were first lit in 1831, and it continues to play an important role in the region both in a historical sense, and as an active navigational aid for marine vessels on the bay.
The genesis of the lighthouse
The history of the St. Marks Lighthouse begins before Florida even became a state in the union. By 1828, the Apalachee Bay had become an important shipping corridor for the southeastern United States and territories, and the St. Marks river was a crucial thoroughfare for agricultural products coming into Florida and southern Georgia. Due to the shallowness of the surrounding delta, many ships were having difficulty navigating the transition, and some were ending up grounded.
It was at this time the Governor of the Florida territory called for a lighthouse commission, and an act was soon passed by the U.S. House of Representatives which established funds for a lighthouse to be built at the mouth of the river. Despite cost overruns and disagreements between the builders and local officials over the structural integrity of the lighthouse, it was eventually completed and authorized in 1831.
Standing the test of time
The St. Marks lighthouse has faced many dangers throughout the decades that have threatened its survival. In 1842, only a few years after it began operating, the tower was moved inland due to erosion concerns (a new tower was constructed, but the original lantern was moved intact).
Hurricanes have also posed a problem for the legacy of the lighthouse, as several unusually strong storms battered the Gulf coast in the 1840s and 1850s. One particular hurricane in September of 1843 seriously damaged the nearby town of St. Marks, yet the lighthouse was left standing.
But the lighthouse saw its most significant challenge with the outbreak of the Civil War. As the war neared its end, Confederate Troops were ordered to guard the lighthouse, but the area was eventually attacked by a fleet of Union ships in the Apalachee Bay. The Confederates attempted to destroy the structure to prevent it from falling into Union hands, but they were unable to bring it to the ground. It was restored shortly after the conclusion of the war.
What’s in store for the future
The St. Marks Lighthouse is now under the watch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and has been added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is set to undergo a $550,000 renovation soon, ensuring its elegance and history can be appreciated by generations to come.