St. Joseph Bay Lighthouse
During the nineteenth century, Port St. Joe, along with other
towns like Apalachicola and Cedar Key, enjoyed the promise of growth from Northern
investors and entrepreneurs. The population of Florida doubled between 1870 and 1890, and
tourism began to be a major part of the states economy. Although most lighthouses
were built before this land boom, increased development brought even more ships to
Floridas coasts, and the need for lighthouses became even more important. There were
several lighthouses built at Port St. Joe. The first, located at the tip of St. Joseph
Peninsula, was called the St. Joseph Bay Lighthouse and was built in 1839. Three years
later, a ship pulled into port and spread yellow fever throughout the town of St. Joseph,
reducing the population to zero.
If you had lived in St. Joseph at the time, here is what would have happened to you.
Three to six days after the ship pulled into port, the disease would have finished
incubating, and symptoms would manifest suddenly. It would start with a headache,
backache, and fever. Then you would begin to have nausea and vomiting. Your temperature
would return to normal for a few days, but then it would rise again. Your skin would turn
yellow from an accumulation of yellow bile pigments in your body. Then you would begin to
bleed from the nose and to vomit blood (It was called "black vomit."). Your
kidneys, liver, and heart would begin to fail, and you would die between the fourth and
eighth day after your symptoms began. If by some miracle you survived (and some people
did), your convalescence would be quick. The jaundice would persist, but you would be
immune to yellow fever for the rest of your life.
A hurricane followed the yellow fever and destroyed most of the buildings in town. In
1842, the lighthouse was shut down because the town was literally abandoned. The St.
Joseph Bay Lighthouse stood until 1851, when it was heavily damaged by another hurricane.
Remnants of it remained and served as a daymark for some time, and the foundation could
still be seen up until World War II.
From time to time, there was talk about the re-establishment of the
St. Joseph Bay lighthouse mainly
for fishing vessels, many of which sank in the bay. Just after the turn of the twentieth
century, in 1902, a new lighthouse was built. Unlike most lighthouses of the time, the St.
Joseph Point Lighthouse allowed the keeper and his family to live in the same building as
the light. Originally the lighthouse sat above the ground on brick pillars, leaving room
for supplies and a large cistern below. Later, this area was walled in to make rooms.
Even though the thought of it today seems a little strange, during World War II, German
ships roamed the waters right off the gulf coast. The Coast Guard used the lighthouse as a
base while patrolling the coast for enemy spies who would try to come ashore in rubber
The lighthouse was unmanned again in 1951. It was bought as surplus for three hundred
dollars and was moved three miles inland to a small farm, where it was used as a residence
and was later made into a barn. During the move, a crane inadequate for the job dropped
the lantern room, totally destroying it. Then in 1979, Danny Raffield, a resident of Port
St. Joe, bought the old St. Joseph Bay lighthouse and moved it once again thirteen miles to its present
location. He then lovingly restored it and converted it into a home, even duplicating the
pattern in the wooden walls according to original plans. Much of the woodwork had been
torn apart with a crowbar by someone who thought there might be money buried behind the
planks. Finely grained, forty-foot-long wooden beams cut from two-hundred-foot-tall trees
still remain part of the houses structure. For several years, Danny is also working on
reproducing the lantern room but he told me that years and years ago and I still
don't think it's in place even though I've pictured how it should look in the
The St. Joseph Bay lighthouse is the only privately owned lighthouse in the entire state. Because its a
private residence, its not open to the public, but it can easily be seen from the
street. Its located at County Road 30 next to Pressnells Fish Camp, just south
of the intersection of Highway 98, south of Port St. Joe.
© Roger Bansemer