Loggerhead Key Lighthouse
Loggerhead Key is a small island that sits seventy miles west of
Key West. Florida was sparsely populated at the time the Loggerhead Key lighthouse was built, and a
location such as Loggerhead Key was extremely remote for a keeper and his wife. It was
usually hot and humid, with only gulf breezes and occasional thunderstorms to cool things
off a bit, and mosquitoes were vicious and abundant, constantly plaguing the lighthouse
The only source of water at Loggerhead Key was what could be gathered in a cistern from passing rain
clouds. In this location, and many others like it, keeping water from becoming putrid was
almost impossible. Water collected from the roof of the keepers house would be
polluted before it even reached the cistern. Salt buildup and lead-based paint particles,
along with dirt and ever-present bird droppings, would be washed into the water supply.
Then the dark interior of the cistern would offer a perfect environment for bacteria to
flourish. Efforts were made to quickly scrub the roof clean before an approaching rain
shower, but often there was no time. Valves, or "cocks," were installed and
could be closed to prevent water from being drained into the cistern. This allowed the
roof to be washed clean for the first few minutes of a rain shower. Then they would be
opened to let so-called clean water fill the reserve.
The sandy island at the Loggerhead Key lighthouse would not support crops, and it was difficultif not
impossibleto keep food fresh. The sea was often the best place to keep food cool.
Perishables such as meat and milk were stored in tight cans that were lowered into the
water. It was not an easy life, and the romantic notion of a lighthouse keeper is often a
The lighthouse on Loggerhead Key was built in 1858 because the one at nearby Fort
Jefferson was inadequate and of little use to anyone. The lighthouse at the fort was
reduced to a harbor light when the new light at Loggerhead Key was lit. It was electrified
in 1931, and its three-million-candlepower light made it the most powerful light in the
United States at that time. A modern optic lens replaced the original first-order Fresnel
lens in 1986 and is now on display at the Coast Guard Aid to Navigation School in
A decade and a half after the 151-foot-tall Loggerhead Key lighthouse was built, mortar between the
bricks started to erode and cracks began to appear because of exposure to wind-driven
rain. A new lighthouse was requested. That never happened but Congress did appropriate
enough money for repairs. To remedy the continuous cracking, nine feet of brick work was
removed from the top of the lighthouse, and iron rods were inserted for reinforcement.
Then, one section at a time, masonry was chiseled out in the lower sections, rods were
implanted, and bricks were replaced, but the lighthouse continued to vibrate in strong
winds. Despite its problems, the lighthouse continues to stand and function today, marking
the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico.