Roger Bansemer

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Information and illustrations about St. Marks lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.

St. Marks Lighthouse

St Marks Lighthouse
St Marks Lighthouse İRoger Bansemer

St Marks lighthouse print

St Marks Lighthouse İRoger Bansemer

St Marks lighthouse print

St. Marks lighthouse —like all other Florida lighthouses—have had their share of problems. The first one, built in 1829, was so poorly constructed that it was not accepted by the lighthouse board. Lighthouse plans called for solid walls, but the contractor built it with hollow walls, so another lighthouse was built in 1831. Beach erosion toppled this second structure, and another one was built in 1842. That’s the one still standing today on a twelve-foot-deep base of limestone rocks taken from nearby Fort San Marcos de Apalache.

A brutal hurricane swept over the St. Marks area in 1843 and flattened everything in sight except the lighthouse tower. The keeper and his family survived by clinging to the upper levels of the tall structure, but fifteen others who had sought shelter in the dwelling drowned.

During the Civil War, the Confederates tried to blow up the St. Marks lighthouse and seriously damaged the base of the tower. Despite all its problems, St. Marks has survived and stands like a jewel in the midst of a sixty-five-thousand-acre wildlife refuge. Each time I have been there, it has been warm and sunny. Egrets and herons were everywhere, quietly fishing for their breakfast. I have never experienced such a peaceful place, the stillness and silence broken only by the occasional hum of a mullet boat motoring by. Thank goodness there are still places like this for us to enjoy. St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1931 to set aside an area for thousands of wintering waterfowl. Levees, bridges, and culverts were constructed to create a huge network of freshwater pools for these winter visitors.

The St. Marks lighthouse was automated in 1960 and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, as are all lighthouses. I was lucky enough to be there when two Guardsmen were checking the light. They allowed me to follow them to the top of the eighty-foot-tall lighthouse where the fifth-order Fresnel lens glimmered in the sunlight, looking much like a sculptured glass pineapple. The St. Marks lighthouse is one of those special places where you can sit for a very long time and just absorb the beauty of the surroundings punctuated by the lovely white tower. Of the thirty Florida lighthouses, this is the one that best fits the description "picture-perfect." The way the dark oak trees cradle the white lighthouse makes for a magnificent contrast.

I’ve always thought that alligators have this Mona-Lisa-of-the-wild kind of smile. You can’t tell if they’re happy, angry, full, or hungry. Their eighty teeth can exert three thousand pounds of pressure per square inch when they close their jaws, so I never assume they’re full. Over a million alligators are roaming around Florida now, and you can find them just about anywhere. Even with this healthy population, only about three people in the state are attacked each year.

In the wild, alligators can live to between thirty and thirty-five years of age and can grow up to fourteen feet long. The female lays twenty to fifty eggs, and the new mother is very protective of her offspring. Alligators don’t like salt water, but the ponds and wetlands by the lighthouse are fresh. There’s a good chance you will see them sunning themselves on the edge of the ponds or just off the road. One thing is very important—don’t feed them. As they become familiar with humans as a source of food, they become less apprehensive and more aggressive. Your arm, instead of that marshmallow or piece of bread, could end up being their lunch.

After gaining admission to the refuge at the visitors center, it is a seven-mile drive through the wetlands until you come to the lighthouse. If you have a boat, there is a ramp so you can go fishing or simply motor out and view the lighthouse. The interior isn’t open to the public except on special occasions, but a trip to the site is certainly worth the effort. Bring your lunch and enjoy the day.

İ Roger Bansemer

St Marks Lighthouse Map
İRoger Bansemer - St. Marks Lighthouse