rocket exploded on liftoff and debris narrowly missed the lighthouse.
Before this lighthouse, another one stood at Cape Canaveral. It was built in 1848 but
was inadequate: It stood only sixty-five feet tall and had a dim light. Ships that got
close enough to see the light were in danger of hitting the reef they were trying to
Just before the Civil War started, construction on the present lighthouse began, but it
was put on hold until the war ended in 1865. The light was completed in 1868 and stood 139
feet above sea level. Unfortunately, erosion threatened the lighthouse a mere ten years
after it was built. Jetties were constructed in an effort to hold back the sea, but as
people are still learning today, there is not much that can be done when the power of
waves begins to move a beach. Eventually, the entire structure was moved one and a quarter
The Cape Canaveral lighthouse was designed in huge sections of cast iron, bolted together and then
entirely lined with bricks for added strength. Although this made disassembling the
structure possible, it must have been a monumental undertaking and no record remains of
how they actually accomplished it. Tens of thousands of bricks first had to be chipped
away from the concrete holding them together and removed and then the cast iron sections
each weighing tons were unbolted, lowered to the ground and then moved.
The first two floors of the lighthouse were living quarters, with a spiral staircase
through the center of the interior rather than around the outside walls. There is a
surprising amount of room inside the living quarters. The original cabinets were built to
fit the curve of the walls.
Whale oil was used to light the beacon from the time it was built until 1885, when
kerosene was put into use. Large barrels of whale oil would sometimes be unloaded from a
cargo ship, floated ashore in the shallow surf, and then loaded onto a wagon and hauled to
the brick oil house. Events like this were exciting for the lighthouse keepers
children, who seldom saw much outside activity. Trips to Titusville for supplies were made
only once a month, so living at the lighthouse was quite spartan and solitary. The only
regular callers were the mosquitoes, and there were plenty of those.
Occasionally on dark, rainy nights, birds would fly into the light and fall to
the ground dead. The lighthouse keepers children would have to carry away sometimes
hundreds of dead birds the day after a storm. If a goose or duck happened to be among the
fatalities, it would end up on the dinner table that night. At some lighthouses, the
problem of birds hitting and breaking the glass became so common that wire mesh was
installed to keep the damage to a minimum.
Today the Cape Canaveral lighthouse is nicely restored, its electronic equipment to monitor the rocket
launches has been removed, and its basic function is once again to shine its light
seaward. Two modern-day, one-thousand-watt searchlight beacons have replaced the original
first-order Fresnel lens, now handsomely restored and on display at the Ponce de Leon
The best way to see the lighthouse is to take a bus tour around the space center (check
at the space center for more information). None of the buses stop at the lighthouse, but
the "Blue Tour" drives by it and pauses for pictures. The Coast Guard has the
authority to give tours of this (or any other) lighthouse, but tours are difficult to
arrange because the light is in a very restricted area of the Cape. As a practical matter,
dont even ask for a personal tour unless you have a very good reason.