Lighting The Way

Old lighthouses add charm and dignity to the Forgotten Coast 

Photos by Scott Holstein

Lighthouses left to right: St. Marks, Cape San Blas, Carrabelle and Port St. Joe.

Lighting The WayOld Lighthouses Add Charm and Dignity to the Forgotten Coast

By Mike McLafferty

Lighthouses have always been more than just concrete towers on the edges of the world’s oceans. These gorgeous structures symbolize protection and safety for mariners as they navigate their way home.

Luckily for lighthouse fans, some of the most significant and majestic lighthouses in the world stand sentinel along the Forgotten Coast. These buildings are rich with tradition and a history all their own.

St. Marks, St. George Island and Carrabelle all have historic, landmark lighthouses. Despite being changed by the weather or the march of time, they retain an air of majesty.

The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is home to the St. Marks Lighthouse, located on Apalachee Bay. Today’s lighthouse is actually the third one to be built. According to one of the most reputable lighthouse database sites on the Internet,, the first structure was built in the late 1820s by Boston contractor Winslow Lewis, who agreed to build the structure for $11,765.

After completion of the first St. Marks Lighthouse, it was discovered that, unfortunately, Lewis used hollow walls, and the collector of customs for St. Marks, Jesse H. Williams, refused to approve the project. Carlton Knowlton later was called in to rebuild the tower and bring it up to expectations, and in 1831 Williams approved the new model of the lighthouse. But nature had other plans for the St. Marks Lighthouse.

{sidebar id=1}In 1842, erosion began to endanger the lighthouse and Lewis was called back in to help relocate the structure farther inland. So he removed the lantern portion of the lighthouse and rebuilt the structure in a safer location.

That third, and final, structure is the same one that now stands at the edge of Apalachee Bay (with the exception of a few minor exterior repairs that had to be done after the Civil War).

Visitors have to see the St. Marks Lighthouse in person to understand its attraction to lighthouse fans, artists and casual visitors. The area is breezy and secluded – it’s the perfect spot to sit along the bay and have a picnic. The lush environment surrounding the lighthouse is filled with green hues, and staggered rocks frame the base of the structure in a truly picturesque scene.

Another historic Forgotten Coast lighthouse is the Crooked River Lighthouse, located in Carrabelle. According to, this historic structure was built in 1895 and remained a beacon to mariners for almost a century.

In 1995, the lighthouse was deactivated, but residents weren’t about to let their beloved landmark become ravaged by time. In 1999, they established the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association and fought to keep their lighthouse alive and open it up to the public.

Today, the Crooked River Lighthouse is a no-nonsense piece of history. The steel-beam structure is painted red on the upper half and white on the lower half. Accompanied by a picnic table and a pirate ship playground under shady trees, the area provides a feeling of comfort and security. Standing by this gigantic structure, it’s almost as if the lighthouse is watching over you.

But the lighthouse with quite possibly the most character and the greatest story to be told is the St. George Lighthouse. According to the St. George Lighthouse Association, the original beacon was constructed on the west end of the island in 1833 by Winslow Lewis and stood more than 75 feet tall. Unfortunately, the lighthouse builders failed to realize that mariners approaching from the east side couldn’t see the light from all the way across the island.

The  situation was fixed when Edward Bowden was contracted to erect a new beacon on the east side of the island. The finished lighthouse was activated on Nov. 16, 1848, but good luck didn’t follow the new structure. After only three years, the second St. George Lighthouse was demolished by a gale that also managed to destroy two other lighthouses in the surrounding area.

The St. George Lighthouse was rebuilt in 1852, this time farther inland to prevent erosion. But by the mid-1990s the elements began to cause problems. In 1995, after Hurricane Opal hit the area, the lighthouse became unstable on its foundation and started to lean. Attempts to stabilize the foundation failed, and the structure finally collapsed on Oct. 21, 2005.

But the members of the St. George Lighthouse Association weren’t about to let their symbol of safety and pride be swallowed by the sea. Six months after the collapse, the association began excavating the salvageable pieces of the fallen lighthouse in order to rebuild it in the center of St. George Island as a historic monument.

Rebuilding the St. George Lighthouse began in late 2007 and, as of late February, the structure had already reached more than 40 feet in its new beachside location, visible as you cross the bridge from the mainland. It’s taking shape as another beautiful landmark along the Florida coastline.

These guardians of our coastline aren’t just structures of brick or metal. Rather, lighthouses are gatekeepers of our maritime communities, filled with stories that span more than 100 years – with many more chapters to come.

Categories: Forgotten Coast 2008, Forgotten Coast Archive