The Cape St. George Lighthouse is one of the most treasured landmarks of “Florida’s Forgotten Coast.” It rises above the palms of St. George Island just off Apalachicola.
The beautiful old lighthouse was built in 1852 and survived the Civil War but was demolished by wind and wave on Friday, October 21, 2005. Lighthouse lovers had been trying to preserve and restore the tower for years and even its fall did not end their fight. The St. George Lighthouse Association refused to surrender and just three years later the Cape St. George Lighthouse rose again, this time at the central intersection on St. George Island.
The history of the lighthouse is rich and fascinating. The cape had long been a hazardous place for ships and the mouth of the Apalachicola River was difficult to find. Spain stationed a lieutenant and a few men at a “country house” on the bay prior to 1722, assigning them the mission of guiding travelers.
The port of Apalachicola boomed after the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821 and the U.S. Government recognized the need for navigational improvements. The first Cape St. George Lighthouse was built with Congressional funding in 1833, but a storm toppled the tower just thirteen years later. A second structure lasted only three years before it fell in the deadly hurricane of 1851.
The third Cape St. George Lighthouse is the one that delights visitors to this day. It was completed in 1852 on what is now Little St. George Island. A man-made “cut” or channel was dug in 1954 and separates Little St. George from the main island.
The lighthouse was used as a watch tower and observation post by both Federals and Confederates during the Civil War but survived. Confederate forces darkened it in 1861 and took the lantern and lens upriver to Eufaula, Alabama. This was done to prevent the beacon from assisting Union blockade ships in their effort to patrol the entrances to Apalachicola Bay.
When Southern troops evacuated Apalachicola in 1862, the Union Navy started 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, a function it served off and on until the end of the war in 1865.
It took a few months to recover the lantern and lens so the lighthouse was not illuminated again until August of that year.
The Cape St. George Lighthouse was automated in 1949, but continued to send its beacon out until 1992. It was 140 years old that year when Hurricane Andrew tore away much of the beach around the tower. The U.S. Coast Guard deactivated it two years later.
Hurricane Opal heavily damaged the lighthouse when it struck the Florida Gulf Coast in 1995. The tower was shifted from its foundation, more of the surrounding beach was swept away and the entire structure was left with a 7 degree lean.
A major preservation effort was launched and the lighthouse was stabilized and restored. Sadly, the Gulf was not finished with this landmark of human presence on its shores. The beach around the tower continued to erode and the tower was left standing out in the water. It finally collapsed on October 21, 2005.
The Cape St. George Lighthouse Association moved into action and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection stepped in to assist. The fallen pieces of the lighthouse were salvaged and moved to St. George Island. It took three years but the Cape St. George Lighthouse was completely restored by 2008 and now stands as a beautiful landmark of history and determination.
The Cape St. George Lighthouse is where S.R. 300 dead ends after crossing Apalachiocla Bay and reaching St. George Island. It is open to
the public and visitors can climb to the top to view the coast from the lantern room.
Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids under 16 and free for kids under 6. U.S. military on active duty are admitted free with ID. For information on hours, climbs and more details about the history of the light, please visit www.stgeorgelight.org.
Check out this quick story for great video of the lighthouse: