St. Simons Lighthouse
There have been two lighthouses on St. Simons Island guiding
ships into the ports of Brunswick and Darien. The first, built in 1810, was made
from a material called tabby, a mixture of lime, water, sand, and oyster shells.
Nearby Fort Frederica, built in 1736, was in ruins, and the tabby was taken from
the fort and used in the construction of the lighthouse. Upon completion of the
St. Simons lighthouse, the contractor applied for the position of lighthouse keeper and got
the job, along with the four-hundred-dollar-a-year salary that went with it. For
twenty-seven years, he remained there tending to the lighthouse. In 1862, the
well-kept, seventy-five-foot-tall octagonal lighthouse ceased to exist when the
Confederates thought it was a good idea to dynamite the tower and keepers
house. An excavation of that site took place in 1974.
In 1872, the present lighthouse was completed. Standing one hundred four feet
high, it was built just a few hundred feet from where the first one stood.
Construction wasnt an easy task, not only because of the normal hardships of
getting supplies when needed or the lack of communications back then, but also
because of several stagnant water ponds in the vicinity. Some of the crew died
of malaria and never saw the completion of their work.
The original third-order Fresnel lens is still there in operation
at the St. Simons lighthouse as it
shines its light out to sea for a distance of eighteen miles. The sturdy keepers
house, designed to withstand the worst of storms, has walls that are twelve
inches thick. It housed the keeper, assistant keeper, and their families. This
was a typical living situation during that time, but later lighthouse builders
built a separate house for each family. This one-house-two-families situation
didnt always work out very well and often caused trouble. In March 1880, an
argument between lighthouse keeper Frederick Osborne and his assistant left Mrs.
Osborne a widow. After this incident, the central staircase was removed in the
early 1900s, and additional stairs were put on the outside to better accommodate
other families and put some space between them.
The St. Simons lighthouse saw its last full-time keeper in 1950, when it became
automated. Twenty-five years later, the Georgia Historical Society lovingly
restored the lighthouse and opened it up for the public to enjoy. Today the
central staircase has once again been reinstalled in the house, and when you
visit you can view a short video about the lighthouse, enjoy the period
furniture in each room, and then walk the one hundred twenty-nine steps to the
top for a great view of both St. Simons and Jekyll Islands. Just beside the
lighthouse, there is a handsome hard-sand beach where everyone seems to enjoy a
stroll or a bicycle ride. A large gazebo, ideal for getting out of the sun, was
also built between the beach and the lighthouse. Its an enjoyable place to
soak up the atmosphere of the island. The lighthouse is open Monday through
Saturday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. and
Sunday from 1:30 to 5 P.M. Its closed on some holidays.
The keepers house also has a book and gift shop.
One of the most beautiful lighthouses anywhere in the South,
the St. Simons lighthouse
stands like a jewel on the beach and is certainly worth visiting. There are
plenty of places to stay in the area, and if you find St. Simons a little
pricey, Brunswick has more reasonably priced motels. Jekyll Island, just to the
south, is also a wonderful place to spend some time. Its historic hotel is a
great place to stay or just have lunch. Surrounding the hotel are many large
summer homes once owned by wealthy families. Some of those homes are open to the
public, and others have been converted into shops and an art center. This whole
area is rich in natural beauty and historic interest.