The Cape San Blas Lighthouse, until recently one of the South’s most endangered historic landmarks, now stands fully restored on the waterfront of Port St. Joe, Florida.
The tower’s story is one of wind, waves, storms and love. Authorized in 1883 to replace previous lighthouses lost due to storms and erosion, the cast iron structure was built near the point of Cape San Blas to warn ships of treacherous shoal waters. The windswept cape is a naturally beautiful place but has a long history of shipwrecks not unlike the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The lighthouse was prefabricated in the north and sent south by ship. The vessel carrying it, however, sank before the structure could even be delivered. The cargo was raised and the disassembled tower finally reached its destination. The incident was a sign of things to come.
The eight-legged lighthouse tower was erected on Cape San Blas and its third order Fresnel lens was lit the first time in June 1885. It stood some 1,500 feet from the shore but the cape is a place of shifting sands and in just five years the Gulf of Mexico advanced to within 144 feet of the lighthouse base.
The national Lighthouse Board opted to move the lighthouse away to the beach but funding shortages delayed the project and by the time the move could be paid for the beach was already moving away from the tower. Nothing was done in the hopes that the beach would continue its migration to the south.
The lens was updated in 1905 with a third order bi-valve faceted one. Made in France, the new lens had more than 200 glass prisms and projected the light so well that it could be seen aboard ships more than 16 miles away in the Gulf. It flashed white light for one second every twenty seconds.
The hurricane of 1916 caused the return of erosion to the area around the lighthouse, endangering it with the prospect of toppling into the sea. It was moved one quarter mile from its original location two years later and returned to service on January 22, 1919. A manned LORAN station operated with the lighthouse beginning in the 1950s but was automated in 1972.
The Cape San Blas Lighthouse operated until it was deactivated in 1996. Modern navigational technology rendered it obsolete and its operation became an unnecessary expense for the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Air Force assumed control of the grounds and moved the two keeper’s dwellings closer to the tower to protect them from erosion and storms. One was restored for use by the Air Force but the other remained in dilapidated condition until 2005.
The Gulf of Mexico, however, would not be denied. Wind and waves once again swept away beach sand and water crept closer and closer to the lighthouse base. The Air Force abandoned the site in 2012 because increasing erosion was threatening the stability of the structures, but did move the two keeper’s dwellings and the oil shed further inland to save them from immediate destruction. The City of Port St. Joe stepped in and received possession of the lighthouse district one year later in 2013.
Recognizing that it would be impossible to save the lighthouse and its support structures on or near their original sites at Cape San Blas, city leaders worked with preservationists from the local, state and national level on a plan to relocate the tower. Agreement was reached and the tower itself along with two keeper’s cottages and the oil shed were moved to George Core Park on the Port St. Joe waterfront. The lighthouse opened to the public in its new location on September 12, 2015.
Ducky Johnson House Movers carried out the remarkable move. The well-known firm has achieved a number of remarkable such projects through the years. They are headquartered in Jackson County, Florida.
The Cape San Blas Lighthouse is at George Core Park, Port St. Joe, Florida. Please see the map at the bottom of this page for directions. It is open to the public Thursday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central). A small fee is charged to climb the 99-foot tower.
Please note that hours may change and lighthouse climbs are subject to weather conditions.
This free video proves some great views of the lighthouse move: