Cockspur Island Lighthouse, near Tybee Island GA
One of the more delightful lighthouses that we visited was the Cockspur Island
lighthouse just to the east of Savannah. The tiny oyster shell island on which it sits is
only two hundred feet long and fifty feet wide depending on the tide. Flocks of Oyster
Catchers and other birds use it as a convenient feeding ground. As I explored the
forty-six foot tall tower, the tide moved in around the light itself and I had to wade
back to the island almost hip deep in water and surf.
The Cockspur Island lighthouse also known as the North Light, was built in 1857
replacing another one built in 1848. It was used as to mark the South channel of the
Savannah River. It remained in service until 1949 except during the Civil War when it was
darkened. It is little visited as it is inconvenient to get to but remains standing at its
post even though it has not shined since it was decommissioned in 1909. Another lighthouse
built around the same time and of the same design as this was also built nearby but it has
During the Civil War a terrific artillery battle was fought between the Confederates at
Fort Pulaski and the Union forces just across the bay at Tybee Island. The
Cockspur Island lighthouse sat
in the middle of the bay directly between the two forts but unlike so many other
lighthouses that sustained damage during the war, the Cockspur Island light didnt
even get bruised despite the hundreds of shells that passed overhead. That wasnt the
case with Fort Pulaski however because a new cannon called the "rifled cannon"
had just been put into use. Its devastating punch on the brick fort forced then into
surrender within thirty hours and made brick forts from then on obsolete.
The first lighthouse keeper to tend the light at Cockspur Island had the appropriate
name of John H. Lightburn. Later on, another lighthouse keeper had a daughter named
Florence Martus who lived on nearby Elba Island. She was spending the afternoon with her
father when a sailing ship docked at Savannah. A few of the sailors rowed out to Ft.
Pulaski, just a stone throw from the lighthouse. Florences father offered to give
the sailors a tour of the island and lighthouse and Florence went along for the ride where
she and one of the mariners caught each others eye. During his time in port he
visited Florence three times and when he left promised to return and marry her. The
morning that the ship left port, Florence stood in front of her cottage and waved a white
handkerchief. The sailor never returned but Florence faithfully greeted every passing ship
with her white handkerchief for the next fifty years. She became a welcomed site for all
mariners who came to expect to see her as they entered port. During the years many
sailors, knowing she would be there, brought her gifts. One even presented her with a
llama from Peru. Today sailors and visitors alike can still see Florence at the port of
Savannah, as a bronze statue in her likeness greets everyone that passes by.
The Cockspur Island lighthouse is open to the public but the only way to get there is by boat or by wading
out to it through the marsh grass from Fort Pulaski at low tide. If you do that, plan on getting
pretty wet but if you have a boat, the public boat ramp on the highway leading out to
Tybee Island. You can see the lighthouse from the highway on your left just after you pass
Fort Pulaski but its easy to miss if you arent careful.
I couldnt help but think what an inhospitable little island this was for a
lighthouse keeper to attend to with nothing but sharp oyster shells to walk on and no
shade trees to hide from the sun. Of course one hundred years ago it may have looked quite
different. If I have learned nothing else about lighthouses, it is that beaches come and
go often taking lighthouses with them. It surprises me any of them are left standing.