Roger Bansemer

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St. Simons Lighthouse
St. Simons Island, Ga.
1810 1872

St Simons Lighthouse
Information and illustrations about St. Simons Island lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.
St Simons lighthouse print

Original painting also available

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 keeper’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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. It’s 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. It’s 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.

St Simons Lighthouse drawing St Simons Lighthouse detail
The architectural details are what make the St. Simons Lighthouse so attractive. I wish that people today would take such care with the design of buildings. It helps one feel a respect for our quality of life and our surroundings.

St Simons Lighthouse furniture              St Simons Lighthouse furniture

The furniture in the house is simple, stout, and functional, yet it still has a sense of timeless style.

St Simons Lighthouse Map