Roger Bansemer

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Information and illustrations for Cape San Blas Lighthouse by Roger Bansemer
Cape San Blas Lighthouse
1847, 1856, 1865
1885 (present)
98 feet tall

Cape San Blas Lighthouse
Cape San Blas Lighthouse İRoger Bansemer

The lighthouses at Cape San Blas were more plagued by bad luck and bad decision making than any of the lighthouses in Florida. The first light was built in 1847, and a hurricane toppled it only four years later. An epidemic of yellow fever, a horrible disease spread by mosquitoes, caused the rebuilding of the Cape San Blas lighthouse to take five years but was finally finished in 1856. Several months later, another storm with a fourteen-foot tide destroyed that lighthouse. A third one was soon built but just in time for the Confederates to severely damage it and the keepers’ houses, when the Civil War began so it never was lit until after the war in 1865. Now erosion was its enemy once again. By 1882, the lighthouse stood in eight feet of water. With its foundation undermined, the brick structure fell into the sea. For three years, a light was shown at the top of a hundred-foot-high mast as a lighthouse substitute. Then the decision was made to install a skeletal iron structure rather than another brick one. It was prefabricated in the North and the ship carrying it sunk in shallow water when it was being delivered off the coast of Sanibel Island near Fort Myers. The ironwork was salvaged and finally delivered to Cape San Blas. There, in 1885, it was put in place nine hundred feet inland. Problem solved—not exactly! Eleven years later, erosion ate up so much of the beach, the ninety-eight-foot-tall lighthouse had to be disassembled and moved. That still wasn’t enough, and in 1918, the lighthouse had to be moved again, this time a quarter of a mile north of where it first stood and 1,850 feet inland.

Like most lighthouses, Cape San Blas was remote, and it took the keeper a full day to travel to Apalachicola, just twenty-four miles away. This mule-and-wagon journey was made only twice a year to pick up supplies, and it meant being away from the lighthouse for three days: one day’s travel each way and one day to rest the mules. Today, the same trip takes forty-five minutes each way by car.

One hundred and eleven years after the last lighthouse at Cape San Blas was lit, the Coast Guard placed a hood over the third-order Clamshell Fresnel lens. Having weathered numerous storms, the lighthouse has not been able to weather government cutbacks, which have finally darkened the light.

I first visited Cape San Blas lighthouse when I was doing my Southern Shores book in 1989. The keeper’s house was about two hundred feet from the high tide mark at that time. When I visited again in July of 1997, the high tide mark was gnawing at the base of the keeper’s house, and parts of it were beginning to crumble into the gulf. Now (in 2001) the keepers houses have been moved back once again out of harms way from the encroaching sea. Restoration, although not a historical ones, have been made to the keepers houses.

The Coast Guard is not in the business of saving historical landmarks and considers structures like these more of a liability than anything else so it’s up to a historical society or other group to preserve the lighthouse as a beloved landmark. Florida’s lighthouses are some of the oldest structures still standing in our country. The keepers of these lights were our early pioneers. Hopefully the light will be turned back on to let history continue.

The Air Force is in charge of the land around the lighthouse and the two times I have visited, there have been military people willing to show me around. Although there is a fence around some of the property, you can easily view the lighthouse from just outside the fence or on the beach which is open to everyone.

The Air Force is in charge of the land where the lighthouse sits and although there is a fence around the property you can easily view the lighthouse from the beach and my two experiences there lead me to believe that visitors although not encouraged to walk up to the light are not chased away.

İRoger Bansemer

Cape San Blas Lighthouse, Cape San Blas, FL
İRoger Bansemer