St. Augustine is the site of the oldest permanent navigation aid in North America, dating to a Spanish watchtower built in the late 1500s. It's easy to pinpoint the site these days: the distinctive black-and-white lighthouse tower topped by a red cap on Anastasia Island, across the bayfront from the Old City.
Early wooden towers on the site likely held a flame. Officially, the first light in St. Augustine was hung in a structure made of local coquina stone in 1824, known as the "Old Spanish Watchtower." It was lit by 10 whale oil lamps with 14-inch reflectors. By 1870, shoreline erosion threatened this structure, and construction of the current tower, with funds appropriated by the US Congress, began in 1871. Brick from Birmingham and iron work from Philadelphia were capped by a handblown nine foot tall Fresnel lens from Paris, first lit in 1874. (The older 1824 tower succumbed to a storm in 1880.)
Today the Lighthouse is St. Augustine's oldest surviving brick structure and has been restored to how it appeared in 1888. A brick light keeper's house was added to the property in 1876. Light keepers and assistances lived and worked at the Light Station until the tower was automated in 1955 with an astronomical clock, automatic lamp changer and automatic back-up generator.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse rises 165 feet above sea level, with 219 steps with 8 landings, and is open to the public. The original Fresnel lens, with over 370 handcut glass prisms, still serves as the beacon, but today it is powered by a 1000 watt bulb. Restoration of the light keeper's house and the Fresnel lens began in 1980 as a project of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine, with strong community support. The group also had the tower and Keepers' House added to the National Register of Historic Places. A maritime museum first opened on the site in 1988, expanded in 1994, and today the Lighthouse and Museum are a non-profit institution operated with a mission of history, education and community service. Hundreds of volunteer hours are logged annually. The Keepers House has three floors of lighthouse and maritime history exhibits. The Museum now operates the site as a private-aid-to-navigation and keeps the light shining.
The museum's research arm, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) studies submerged cultural resources in the waters of the nation's oldest port. Since 2009, LAMP archaeologists have been studying a 1782 British ship which ran aground in the St. Augustine Inlet.
Events are offered year 'round at the Lighthouse, including daily guided tours, viewing of model ship builders, viewing of volunteer craftsmen building traditional wooden boats, Luminary Night in December, Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours, Sunset Moonrise during full moon, and more. The 10-acre property includes maritime hammock nature trails and a shipyard play area. Climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse for a spectacular 360 degree view, overlooking the ocean to the east and the city of St. Augustine to the west. Open 7 days a week, 9am-6pm with self-guided tours and private guided excursions.
The Lighthouse and Museum are located on Anastasia Island, off A1A. Address: 100 Red Cox Dr, St Augustine, FL.
NOTE: Inn guests have complimentary admission to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum plus discounts on purchases in the gift shop.