Withstanding numerous storms, the St. Marks Lighthouse has been a navigational beacon for over a century and a half guiding recreational, military, and merchant vessels from around the world to the mouth of the St. Marks River.
The structure consists of the light keeper's house attached to the 80 foot tower, both resting on a 12 foot thick limestone base. According to local legend the limestone blocks are from the ruins of old Fort San Marcos de Apalachee. Eighty-five steps spiral up the brick tower to the lantern room, the first seventy-two are wood and the last thirteen are iron. The tower walls are four feet thick at the base, tapering to 18 inches at the top. The lantern room still contains the Fresnel lens installed in 1867. Over the years oil, kerosene, and electricity have powered the lamp which can be seen up to 15 miles. The keeper's house has four foot thick brick walls with twelve windows and two chimneys. Two exterior doors open onto the long covered porch. The St. Marks tower pattern has always been white with a black lantern top.
The St. Marks Lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard.
1st LIGHTHOUSE: In 1828, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an act which authorized the construction of a lighthouse at St. Marks. A contract was signed with Winslow Lewis of Boston for a tower in the St. Marks area for $11,765. In March 1830, the local customs inspector refused to accept the completed tower for the U.S. Government citing that the contract had called for solid walls not the hollow wall that Lewis had constructed. It was rebuilt and accepted in 1831. Erosion forced the tower to be rebuilt again with double walls in its present location in 1842. The first lighthouse keeper was Samuel Crosby (1830–1839), followed by Benjamin Metcalf (1839–1841) and then Capt. J. P Hungerford (1841–1844), whose family survived the terrible hurricane of 1843 by escaping to the attic but fifteen others in the dwelling drowned.
ANTEBELLUM LIGHTHOUSE: Needham Dudley (1844–1850) was the keeper when Florida became a state in 1845, followed by his wife, Mrs. Ann Dudley (1850–1854), who became the first woman light keeper at St. Marks. Three large hurricanes hit the lighthouse in the 1850s. One destroyed the 160 foot long sea wall, six feet thick and ten feet high that had been built in 1844. In the 1851 storm Ann Dudley lost almost all her worldly possessions totaling around $1,100. Her petition to Congress for compensation went unheeded. David Kennedy became the keeper in 1860 which he held before, during and after the Civil War.
CIVIL WAR—1899: The Union blockaded Apalachee Bay during the Civil War and burned the lighthouse stairs to keep it from being used as a lookout post by the Confederates. In March 1865 a fleet of 16 ships landed around 1,000 Union troops near the lighthouse. Their defeat at Natural Bridge on March 6 kept Tallahassee from being occupied by the Union forces during the war. After the war the tower and keeper's house were rebuilt and light keeper David Kennedy relit the lamp on January 8, 1867. A new fourth-order Fresnel lens had been installed which is still in place today. In 1873 yet another hurricane forced the family into the tower where they survived the night. Later repairs were undertaken to the house and tower and the porch, still extant, was added. Light keeper George Gibson left in 1891 and was replaced by Charles O. Fine.
TWENTIETH CENTURY: Charles Fine died in 1905 and his wife Sarah became the second woman light keeper at St. Marks. One of her daughters, Lela Fine was born there, married there and lived most of her life there after her husband, John Young Gresham, became keeper in 1916. During Gresham's tenure a cistern, kitchen, outhouse, picket fence, boathouse and dock, and a maintenance building were added. For the first time the keeper's children were educated by a teacher in a one-room combination house and school room. Also St. Marks Migratory Bird Refuge was created in 1931 and the road built to the lighthouse. His son, Alton Gresham succeeded him in 1957 and so became the last light keeper at St. Marks as the light was automated in 1960. In 1974, the St. Marks Lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The light from the Fresnel lens was extinguished in 2000 when the USCG installed a modern solar powered light.
2010: Transfer of ownership of the lighthouse from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should be completed in the near future! Once that is finalized, St. Marks NWR has plans to restore and open the lighthouse as a museum and historic site. The St. Marks Refuge Association is spearheading efforts to restore and open the historic lighthouse. Donations are gratefully accepted.
Directions to Lighthouse: Click here for map
Keepers of St. Marks Lighthouse: Click here for list
Instructions to the Keepers of Light Houses Within the United States: Click here for list
Characteristics: Occulting white light every four seconds (electric flasher)
Height: 88 feet, 85 steps
DayMark: Whitewashed conical brick tower with a black lantern
History: Constructed 1829–1830, 1842. First Lighted 1831, 1842
On National Register Listing
Lens: Original: Fifteen Lewis-Argand lamps with fourteen-inch reflectors; Winslow Lewis (1831). Present: Forth-order fixed Fresnel lens; Henry-Lepaute (1867). Focal Plane: 82 feet.
Construction: Architect Winslow Lewis. Builder: Benjamin Beal and Jairus Thayer (first tower); Calvin Knowlton (second and third towers). Conical brick tower constructed of brick and iron.
Other Buildings: Attached 1871 keeper's dwelling.
30 04 18 N
84 10 48 W
Operated by: United States Coast Guard & St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
U.S.C.G. District: 8
ARLHS No.: USA-801
Visit Status: Grounds only, house and tower open for tours on Florida Lighthouse Day
Days Open: Refuge Open Daily
Facilities: None, no handicap access
Hours Open: Refuge is open during daylight hours
Visitor Info: Grounds only, access through St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, keeper house and tower open for tours during special events
"St. Marks Lighthouse Tour Part 1 of 2 " — Part 1 of a guided tour of the St. Marks Lighthouse located in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County Florida.
"St. Marks Lighthouse Tour Part 2 of 2 " — Part 2 of a guided tour of the St. Marks Lighthouse located in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County Florida.
"The Lighthouse Tale" — A video filmed at The St. Marks Lighthouse. This music video, set in the 1850's, is a classic love story revolving around the often tragic life of the American lighthouse worker. The video is based on Nickel Creek's recording "A Lighthouse Tale".
Various books and items related to the St. Marks Lighthouse, and to lighthouses in general, are available for purchase in the Nature Store located in the Refuge's Visitor Center, located about 7 miles north of the Lighthouse, on Lighthouse Road. All profits from sales go to support Refuge programs.
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St. Marks Refuge Association, Inc.
PO Box 368
St. Marks, FL 32355
The Florida Lighthouse Association's (FLA) mission is to safeguard Florida's remaining lighthouses for future generations by supporting community based restoration, preservation and education efforts.
A special Thanks to Gordon Levi for supplying the above photos.