Roger Bansemer

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Morris Island Lighthouse
1867
Charleston, South Carolina

Morris Island lighthouse print
Information and illustrations about Morris Island lighthouse by artist & author Roger Bansemer.

Morris Island lighthouse print

Morris Island Lighthouse

The first lighthouse at Charleston was built in 1767 just after the French and Indian War when South Carolina was still a British Colony. A copper plate attached to the cornerstone of the lighthouse read, "The First Stone of this beacon was laid on the 30th of May 1767 in the seventh year of his Majesty’s Reign, George the III." Burning pitch and oakum provided light and later candles were used.

In 1837 the Morris Island lighthouse was replaced by a new one at a different location near Fort Sumter and stood one hundred and two feet high. It received a first order Fresnel lens a few years before the Civil War but was destroyed during the war.

Construction on the present Morris Island lighthouse began in 1874 and finished two years later. It sits at the mouth of the Charleston Harbor on what was once Morris Island and rises one hundred and sixty-one feet. It was once surrounded by land and an elegant three story Victorian keepers house looking more like a mansion than a home for the keeper and his two assistants along with their families. It was an elegant affair. Livestock, vegetable and flower gardens and about fifteen buildings made up the complex that included a small school house where a teacher came over from the mainland on Monday and stayed until Friday to help with the lessons.

The stately and well kept Morris Island lighthouse survived major hurricanes and even an earthquake that devastated much of Charleston just fourteen years after the lighthouse was built. The passing of time however has not been kind and years of beach erosion are forcing the old lighthouse into surrender. Despite the substantial foundation consisting of piles driven fifty feet below ground, two courses of 12" x 12" timbers resting on the pilings encased in concrete, then an eight foot thick foundation on top of that, the lighthouse is finally giving up. Its foundation is weakened and the tower leans at an angle toward the sea as if to bow to defeat. Erosion has also taken with it the keepers house and all its buildings. The lighthouse stands alone and surrounded only by water several hundred yards offshore.

A short but pleasant walk over the dunes at the end of Folly Beach is required to get to where the lighthouse can be viewed. It would appear that you could swim the several hundred yards to the light during low tide and I considered it since there are no boat ramps anywhere in the area but a swift current between the lighthouse and myself changed my mind. Better sense along with my wife kept me from doing any more than thinking about it. The lighthouse is close to Folly Beach so you should be quite satisfied with the view from there. A Holiday Inn is located several miles away with a few small restaurants making it a nice place to spend the night.

A new lighthouse on Sullivan Island across Charleston Harbor currently operates replacing the Morris Island light. It can be seen from Folly Beach as you look out onto the old lighthouse. It’s less than six miles away by boat but to get to the Sullivan Island lighthouse by car it’s twenty-four miles and takes close to an hour as you have to drive around the harbor through Charleston.

For more information about Folly Beach (this is where you must be to view the light as close as possible) visit follybeach.com/

To view the official Morris Island "Save the Lighthouse" website go to: www.savethelight.org

Morris Island Lighthouse Map, Charleston SC