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
solvednot 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 wasnt
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 days 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 keepers 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
keepers 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 its up to a
historical society or other group to preserve the lighthouse as a beloved landmark.
Floridas 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.