Looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean, the Georgetown lighthouse sits at the mouth of Winyah Bay leading in to historic Georgetown ten miles away. Many of the locals around Georgetown call it the North Island lighthouse as it sits on North island and some didn’t even know what I was talking about when I referred to it as the Georgetown lighthouse. It is after all, about twelve miles away from Georgetown by boat on North Island. The first lighthouse on the island was built of wood in 1801and the lantern was lit with, at that time, plentiful whale oil. Two years later everything was washed away by a storm. Another lighthouse was built of brick in 1812 but major damage during the Civil War put an end to its usefulness.
The present Georgetown lighthouse rose from the ashes in 1867. It’s the oldest active lighthouse in South Carolina and stands eighty-seven feet high with six foot thick walls at the base. It has one hundred and twenty-four spiral stairs inside cut from solid stone instead of the more common cast iron. A simple but stately two-story keepers house just in front of the lighthouse, all surrounded by a white picket fence once finished off the scene. Now only the lighthouse remains along with the cistern and a few small buildings that were built more recently.
You can only reach the Georgetown lighthouse by boat. The day we visited it was foggy. Not just a little foggy but “can’t see anything” foggy. I asked a fishermen for directions and he pointed the way with reservation but wished us good luck as we put our small boat in the water. I figured it could only get better and eventually the fog would lift. We hugged the shoreline for a mile or two, then made a left, crossing the bay. That would, according to his directions, land us at the lighthouse. The interesting thing about lighthouses is that when you most need them they may not be of any assistance. Just as I was almost ready to admit defeat and turn back with nothing but thick fog surrounding us, we practically ran into the beach. The lighthouse beacon normally seen from about fifteen miles away was only a faint beam of light struggling unsuccessfully to peer out through the dense cloud of white soup. If we had been a ship instead of a twelve-foot aluminum boat we most certainly would have beached ourselves hard on the island. Fog horns, although used in the northern states, were not commonly employed in southern lighthouses. Mariners simply had to sit tight in conditions of fog until it lifted before trying to enter an area along the coast.