Roger Bansemer

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Information and illustrations about  Hillsboro Inlet lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.
Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse

Hillsboro Inlet lighthouse print
original painting of Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse done in acrylic on illustration board İRoger Bansemer

Hillsboro Inlet lighthouse print

Hillsboro Inlet Lightghouse
original painting of Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse done in acrylic on illustration board İRoger Bansemer

Hillsboro Inlet lighthouse

The Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse has weathered many hurricanes, including the one in 1926 that took away about six hundred feet of beach. The erosion was so great that much of the area around the lighthouse was washed away, exposing the concrete pilings that support the structure. Fortunately the lighthouse had a strong foundation. Many attempts were made to stop the beach erosion including the use of wooden barriers and piled up brush along the shore but they failed until huge granite boulders were placed from the lighthouse out into the ocean.

The task of building a lighthouse foundation was intensive. Sand was removed down to the bedrock. Holes were then made in the solid rock using chisels, pickaxes, and heavy drills. Bolts were then set into the holes and fixed firmly in place with molten lead. Even in brick and granite lighthouses this method was frequently used.  For some lighthouse foundations, massive steel screws were driven into the soft limestone to anchor the lighthouse. Either method proved effective.

Like other skeletal lighthouses, the Hillsboro Inlet lighthouse was fabricated in the Detroit but others like it were built in New Jersey and New York. They were first assembled to ensure that everything fit properly, then dismantled, packed, and shipped to their final destinations. The cast-iron central tube measures nine feet across and has a double-thick wall with a few inches of space between the walls. This added strength to the tower and insulated it, keeping it a bit cooler in the summer. The lighthouse stands 136 feet tall and became unmanned in 1974.

The diamond-shaped, curved panes of glass in the lantern room of the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse are unusual and were very difficult to produce at the time. They were used because they prevented the light from being cut off by any horizontal window framing as the beacon rotated. The clamshell lens, also found in the lighthouse at Cape San Blas, was an improved version of the more traditional beehive Fresnel lens design. Made in 1907 in France, this lens had 356 polished optical glass prisms held in place by a brass framework and was 9 feet in diameter. It would cost several million dollars to duplicate this lens today, so smaller beacons with plastic lenses are now used.

The clamshell lens mechanism sat in a circular raceway  holding five hundred pounds of liquid mercury that floated the heavy lens so it could easily turn without the use of ball bearings. Unfortunately, the mercury would evaporate in the hot Florida sun, poisoning the air inside the lantern room although no one realized the dangers back then. The mercury was also handled frequently by the lighthouse keeper when he cleaned it by filtering adding to the danger.

Hillsboro Inlet was and still is a treacherous stretch of waterway, especially where it meets the Atlantic. It was windy the day I visited the lighthouse, and even the larger boats were having trouble navigating their way through the pass.

During World War II, many ships were sunk along Florida’s Atlantic coast. German submarines would sit offshore and use the lights of the town to silhouette passing ships, making them easy targets. The tanker Lubrofol was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Hillsboro Inlet, leaving the beaches fouled with oil. The Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse was used as an observation platform to help spot submarines as were other Florida lighthouses, but it was a difficult task. Air patrols were the most effective tool to find submarines and because of those patrols, several submarines were sunk; one still sits in three hundred feet of water just south of Hillsboro.

The lighthouse and grounds are closed to the public. Just to get close, you have to pass through the private Hillsboro Club, and they aren’t very fond of sightseers. You can get a good look at the lighthouse from the bridge, but the best view is from the beaches across the inlet. The Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society works with the Coast Guard and occassionally opens the lighthouse to the public. The official webpage for the Society and information about upcoming tours go to their homepage.

İRoger Bansemer

Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse Map
İRoger Bansemer