Tybee Island Lighthouse
Lighthouses serve the same purpose during daylight hours as "daymarkers" as
they do at night when sailors look for a particular flash of light that would identify
their position. Thats why lighthouses all have different colors, markings,
stripes, bands, and so on. The first structures that helped guide ships in to the port at
Savannah didnt have lights at the top at all and were used only as
"daymarkers". The first one was built on Tybee Island in 1736 and made of wood.
It stood ninety feet high, was octagonal in shape and at that time was the tallest
building of its kind in America. Five years later it came crashing to the ground in a
storm. Another tower was built of stone and wood in 1742 but bad weather destroyed it too.
A third one was built entirely of brick and placed inland a bit to prevent erosion and
severe storms from pounding it. Eighteen years later in 1791, after Georgia had become a
state, the federal government took over the marker and placed a light on top. Candles were
used as was the custom at the time for a light source but fire broke out and damaged the
tower beyond repair. It was rebuilt of brick and a new lighting system was installed. It
was called the Lewis Lamp and instead of candles, it used an array of oil wick lamps each
having its own reflector. It was better than candles but less than adequate. In 1857 the
tower was fitted with a bright 2nd order Fresnel lens.
Four years later the Confederate Army removed the lens and set fire to the
Tybee Island lighthouse
as they were retreating from an attack by the Union and the lighthouse remained dark and
badly damage during the war. Rebuilding started after the war but the upper portion of the
structure was so badly damaged that it had to be replaced leaving only the bottom part
original. Federal troops arrived at the island and with them thry brought cholera. Some of
the workmen died and the others scattered to avoid the disease. When they returned they
found that the soldiers had done a fair job of vandalizing everything in sight and most of
the work had to begin again. The tower was finally completed until 1867, reached a
finished height of one hundred and fifty-four feet and was fitted with a 1st
order Fresnel lens, the largest and brightest available making the light visible from
almost twenty miles at sea.
Powerful storms hit the area several times in the past, so much so that they cracked
the tower and an earthquake in 1886 furthered the damage and cracked the lens. The
lighthouse board concluded that a new lighthouse needed to be constructed but Congress
disagreed and so the old tower still stands today. The color scheme of this lighthouse has
been changed six times since it was built. At one point part of it was painted gray, a
very strange choice and mariners must have also thought so as it didnt last long. In
years past it was painted white at the bottom third and black the rest of the way up. Now
the Tybee Island lighthouse has been restored once again to its original paint scheme.
The Tybee Island lighthouse is beautifully restored and you can walk to the top of the light and
through the keepers houses one of which includes a gift shop. The beach is right across
the street for swimming and there are nearby places to eat and stay along with fort
right across the street from the lighthouse.