Roger Bansemer

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Information and illustrations about Crooked River lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.
Crooked River Lighthouse

Carrabelle, Florida
1895
Crooked River lighthouse print at Carrabelle
Crooked River Lighthouse © Roger Bansemer

Crooked River lighthouse print, Carrabelle
ORIGINAL PAINTING ALSO AVAILABLE

The Crooked River Lighthouse

Carrabelle with its population of about 1,400 is one of those rare towns in Florida that hasn't grown much since its early days. It had a good start in the late 1800's with cotton from Georgia, hardwoods from Central America. Florida's extensive pine forests along with several saw mills in the area also meant more business for the port. It was a busy port processing it through the port of Carrabelle but like Cedar Key and Apalachicola things didn't develop as hoped due in part to the development of railroads in other parts of Florida. Now it's a pleasant community where sport and commercial fishing are the main activities. This area of Florida has been called the "Forgotten Coast." Hopefully it will stay that way for a long time. It's unspoiled and handsome and one of the few areas left with no high rises along the shores. It gives you a sense of what Florida was like years ago. The police station in Carrabelle is famous for being the smallest in the world, a phone booth in the middle of town.

Carrabelle and Dog Island, just offshore from Carrabelle played an important part of the World War II efforts and served as a huge military training facility. Over 30,000 troops were stationed here at what was once called Camp Gordon Johnston with over 1,100 buildings. There was a bombing range, bazooka range, live grenade practice area, bayonet and knife course, and an area covered with barb wire and obstacles, shell holes and trenches where six machine guns would fire live ammunition just 30 inches above the ground while troops crawled their way underneath. On the 159,347 acres of land that this training center occupied there was even a street fighting course called Harbeson City that was constructed from an old logging village to simulate a Nazi occupied village. Training in small landing craft along the beaches was also an important part of the training here. Nothing much is left of this now.

Lighthouses were an important part in the development of any seaport and the first lighthouse to guide ships into the Port of Carrabelle was built on Dog Island, a barrier island just offshore from Carrabelle. Constructed in 1838 it became the victum of a storm which toppled the tower and destroyed the keepers 35 years after it was built. During the time it was operational it also suffered damage by the Confederates during the Civil War which is the typical story of lighthouses during the war.

Twenty-two years went by with no lighthouse to guide ships into the area after the lighthouse on Dog Island was washed away and then in 1895 a new light was built on the mainland protecting it for the ever shifting sands of the barrier island. It was placed just north of town and this is the lighthouse that still stands today. It is exactly like the lighthouse on Anclote Key near Tarpon Springs. It's called a skeleton lighthouse and was quite an advancement over the heavy brick lighthouses built earlier. They used less materials and were less expensive to build. They were prefabricated and could be more easily assembled and taken apart if they needed to be moved at a later time. The surface area was less than that of a brick lighthouse so it meant that they would stand up better in hurricanes. Most of all they weighted less so the foundation wasn't as critical as were heavy brick lighthouses that weighed thousands of tons.

Meanwhile Dog Island like all barrier islands continue to shift and move with not much to be done about it. It's just a natural thing. These sandy beaches come and go, sometimes growing in size but just as often wash away because of hurricanes. People still continue to build homes on these barrier islands which I believe is quite risky.

The lighthouse is hard to see from the road and you have to keep a sharp eye out for it since it is hidden behind the tall Florida pines that surround it. It looked much different when it was first built as there were no trees at all surrounding the light. Two keepers houses with large porches stood on each side of the lighthouse but they have long since disappeared. At the time it was built the cost for the lighthouse, oil house, and two keepers houses totaled $40,000.

Now small houses are being built in the immediate area around the lighthouse and other lots are for sale. It looks to me as if the area around the lighthouse has become a nightime hangout for teenagers and although there is a fence around the lighthouse to keep vandals out it seems to me that it is quite susceptible to abuse if not cared for in the future. It would make a wonderful tourist attraction if only the area were developed with a gift shop and some tidying up. Otherwise I believe this lighthouse might deteriorate into a memory.
©Roger Bansemer

crooked-river-lighthouse-map.jpg (27735 bytes)
©Roger Bansemer