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Information and illustrations about Cape Canaveral lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse
1868
Cape Kennedy (Canaveral) Light
Cape Kennedy, Florida

Cape Canaveral lighthouse print
Information and illustrations about Cape Canaveral lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.©

Cape Canaveral lighthouse print

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse was guiding ships along the Atlantic long before anyone dreamed of ships in space. It still shines its guiding light off the east coast of Florida only a few thousand feet from where the first men left Earth to visit the moon. Dr. Wernher von Brann, a pioneer of the space effort, used the lighthouse as a platform to observe early rocket launches. Later, the military used the lighthouse to house and monitor electronic equipment. Being so close to the launch pads has posed a threat to the light in several ways. The huge first-order Fresnel lens began to crack from the severe vibrations caused by the nearby launch of rockets and in 1997 an Delta 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 avoid.

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 miles inland.

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 keeper’s 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 keeper’s 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 Inlet Lighthouse.

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, don’t even ask for a personal tour unless you have a very good reason.

©Roger Bansemer

Cape Canaveral lighthouse Statistics:
Built in 1868
139 feet tall

cape-canaveral-lighthouse-map.jpg (50956 bytes)
©Roger Bansemer


Additional information:
Spaceport USASM
Visitors Center TWS
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
(303) 452-2121

More information about the lighthouse keepers at Canaveral.