Jewel of St. George Island
One of the most remarkable and treasured sights on the Florida coast is the Cape St. George Lighthouse. It rises gracefully above the palms of St. George Island, a beautiful barrier island that helps form Apalachicola Bay.
The beautiful old lighthouse, built in 1852, was demolished by a hurricane on Friday, October 21, 2005, even as it was the focus of a decades long preservation effort.
The St. George Lighthouse Association refused to surrender, however, and the Cape St. George Lighthouse rose again just three years later. Its new location was the central intersection on St. George Island. It is now open to the public and is the focal point of a beautiful museum complex.
The lighthouse has a rich and colorful history. In fact, lifesaving efforts on Apalachicola Bay began as early as 1722 when the Spanish established a “country house” with a lieutenant and a few men there to guide travelers through the treacherous waters.
The port of Apalachicola boomed following the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821 and the U.S. Government quickly saw the need for improvement. The construction of the first Cape St. George Lighthouse was approved in 1833.
This lighthouse stood until it was destroyed by a storm in 1846. A second structure was completed two years later, but lasted only three years until it was destroyed by a deadly hurricane in 1851.
A third Cape St. George Lighthouse was completed in 1852 on what is now Little St. George Island, which was separated from the main island by a man-made “cut” or channel in 1954. This is the structure that stood until it fell in 2005.
The new lighthouse was only nine years old when the War Between the States (or Civil War) swept across the Florida coast. Confederate forces darkened the light in 1861 and took its lantern and lenses up the river to Eufaula, Alabama. Their goal was to prevent its beacon from assisting Union blockade ships in their efforts to patrol the entrances to Apalachicola Bay.
Southern troops withdrew from Apalachicola in early 1862, however, the Union navy began using St. George Island as a place to set foot on dry land. Sailors often climbed the lighthouse and used it as a lookout point until the end of the war in 1865. It took a few months after the fall of the Confederatcy to recover the lantern and lens but the Cape St. George Light returned to service in August 1865.
The lighthouse was automated in 1949, but remained in operation until 1992 when a hurricane swept away much of the shoreline surrounding the tower. It was deactivated two years later.
Hurricane Opal struck the Florida coast in 1995 and did heavy damage to the lighthouse. The tower was shifted from its foundation and the beach around it swept away by waves and wind. After the storm had passed, preservationists found that the tower was leaning by an estimated 7 degrees.
A major preservation effort was launched and the lighthouse was stabilized and restored, but sadly the Gulf had not finished with its attack on the historic tower. The beach surrounding the Cape St. George Lighthouse was carried away by the winds and waves of the Gulf until the tower itself was isolated out in the water. It was in this threatened condition when the tower finally collapsed on October 21, 2005.
The history of this beautiful structure, however, was far from over. The St. George Lighthouse Association moved into action and salvaged the pieces of the lighthouse with help from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The fragments were carried to the main part of St. George Island and the lighthouse was rebuilt on high ground overlooking the beaches adjacent to the island’s main intersection. The restoration was completed in 2008.
The Cape St. George Lighthouse can be seen today at the point where S.R. 300 dead ends after crossing the bay to St. George Island. It is open to the public and visitors can climb to the top to view the coast from the lantern room.
The lighthouse can be visited during summer months (March 1 – October 31) on Friday-Wednesday. Hours are 12 noon-5 p.m. on Sundays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on other days. It is closed on Thursdays. During the winter months, the lighthouse is open Friday-Wednesday from 12 noon-5 p.m. It is closed on Thursdays.
The current cost of admission is $5 for adults, $3 for youth 16 and under. Kids under 6 are admitted free. U.S. Military Personnel with ID can also visit for free. You must be at least 40-inches tall to climb the lighthouse and visitors should be aware that the tower can be temporarily closed due to severe weather conditions.
Enjoy our special video of the Apalachicola area: