ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Key West Lighthouse in Key West, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Key West Lighthouse in Key West, Florida
Key West Lighthouse
A landmark dating to before the Civil War, the
Key West Lighthouse guided ships through the
waters of the Florida Keys for more than 100 years.
Key West Lighthouse
Built in 1847 and heightened
in 1894, the Key West
Lighthouse is restored and
open to the public.
Key West Lighthouse
The tower replaced an earlier
lighthouse that was destroyed
by hurricane in 1846.
Key West Lighthouse - Key West, Florida
Sentinel of the Florida Keys
Wreckers Monument
Shipwrecks were so common
in the Florida Keys that
"wrecking" or salvaging from
wrecks was a major industry.
Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
The Key West Lighthouse was built in 1847
to guide ships through the waters off the port
of Key West, Florida. It is now restored and
open to the public as a historic landmark.

The original Key West Lighthouse was built
in 1825 by the federal government. Florida
had been ceded by Spain to the United
States just four years earlier and Key West
was then a rapidly developing port located at
the very southern tip of the new U.S. territory.

The waters off the Florida Keys were perilous
and "wrecking," or salvaging goods from
wrecked ships, was a major industry along
the chain of islands. To assist vessels
navigating through these treacherous waters,
Congress authorized the construction of a
lighthouse at Key West.

This original lighthouse was destroyed in the
Great Hurricane of 1846. Hoping the strong
tower would protect them from the storm, a
number of local residents took shelter there.
It proved to be a deadly decision. When the
wind and water subsided, nothing was left at
the site of the lighthouse but sand. Fourteen
people died when the tower collapsed.

Among the dead were six children of the
lighthouse keeper, Barbara Mabrity. The
widow of Michael Mabrity, an earlier keeper,
Barbara had been assigned to succeed him
as keeper after he died in 1832.

Although work began on the current tower in
1847, funding was slow and the lighthouse
was not completed until 1849. Standing on
one of the highest points in Key West, only 15
feet above sea level, the new lighthouse was
state of the art for the time. The light was
powered by 15 oil lamps and was directed
with 15-inch reflectors. Barbara Mabrity
resumed her duties as lighthouse keeper.

The Key West Lighthouse was one of the few
in the South that remained in the hands of
the U.S. Government throughout the Civil
War. As a result it served to help Union
warships navigate the waters around Key
West as they came and went from the major
naval station maintained there during the
war. These vessels enforced the blockade
from Key West up the Florida Gulf Coast to
St. Andrew Bay.

While the lighthouse continued to operate
during the Civil War, the conflict caused the
end of the 32 year tenure of Barbara Mabrity
as keeper. She lost her position after
allegedly making statements against the
Union. She was 82 years old at the time.

Mabrity was replaced and a new keeper
assigned, with the lighthouse suffering no
interruption during the critical years of the
War Between the States.
In February of 1865, the Key West Lighthouse
stood watch over ships of the East Gulf
Blockading Squadron as the steamed out
from Key West to support a major U.S. Army
expedition to the northern Gulf Coast. This
expedition would end in disaster at the Battle
of Natural Bridge, Florida, on March 6, 1865.
Please click here to learn more.

The original keeper's dwelling was replaced
with the structure that still stands in 1886.
Eight years later the tower was extended to
its present height of 86 feet.

The Key West Lighthouse remained in
operation until 1969, when it was declared
obsolete and deactivated. The tower was
transferred to Monroe County in 1972 and
subsequently leased to the Key West Art &
Historical Society. The organization has
since restored both the lighthouse and the
adjacent keeper's cottage. Both are now
open to the public.

The Key West Lighthouse is open daily from
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for
adults, $9 for seniors, $5 for children and
students with ID (children under 6 are
admitted free).
The lighthouse is located at
938 Whitehead Street.
Please click here to
visit the historical society's website for more
Photos by Lauren Pitone
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