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Information and illustrations about  American Shoal Lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.
American Shoal Lighthouse

1880

American Shoal lighthouse print
American Shoal Lighthouse - Acrylic on illustration board İRoger Bansemer

American Shoal lighthouse print

The American Shoal lighthouse was the last iron-pile lighthouse built in the Florida Keys. It was finished in 1880 and resembles the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. The entire ironwork structure was built in Trenton, New Jersey, at a cost of $47,000, not including the site construction and lens. The tower was completely assembled at the factory to ensure that everything fit properly before it was shipped to the Keys.

The men who built this American Shoal lighthouse used Key West as their base of operations even though it was nineteen miles away. Other islands were nearer, but Key West had the accommodations that other islands lacked. There were no roads or railways connecting the Florida Keys at that time, and nothing was accomplished easily. As was the case for some of the other reef lights, a temporary platform was first built using local lumber from locally harvested mangrove trees. Materials were hauled to the site in a steam-powered vessel along with the men, and iron pilings were pounded into the coral an inch at a time with a steam-powered pile driver. Delays could last for days and even weeks because of rough seas. And there were no telephones to check on that order of bolts that hadn’t yet arrived from Philadelphia, either.

The American Shoal lighthouse was automated in 1963, marking the end of an era: lighthouse keeping as it had been practiced for over one hundred years. The Coast Guard regularly services the light in the 109-foot-tall lighthouse, but private contractors are now hired to scrape, paint, and maintain the ironwork. If parts need to be replaced, the Coast Guard’s civil engineers fabricate them using original blueprints. It is a constant maintenance vigil to battle vandalism and nature. Strange as it may seem, even though the American Shoal Lighthouse stands seven miles from the nearest land, termites have taken their toll on the interior of the keepers’ quarters.

In 1980, exactly one hundred years after the lighthouse was built, it was used by the Coast Guard—along with other reef lighthouses in the Keys—as a lookout post to spot refugees coming from Cuba and to monitor boats that might be carrying drugs. The lighthouse still operates at night, and during the day it serves as a day marker for all the shipping that passes by. Even with the advent of global positioning systems, the familiar lighthouse is welcome reassurance for ships’ captains. Divers also like the lighthouse and often use the area to view the over two hundred types of fish that populate the reef.

İRoger Bansemer

american shoal lighthouse mapİRoger Bansemer