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Three lighthouses highlight the beauty of the forgotten coast

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 7:38 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The forgotten coast of the Big Bend. Home to three lighthouses that have been guiding sailors through treacherous shoals spanning from Dog Island to St. George Island.

Each lighthouse, holding it’s own secrets. Some, having stood since before the Civil War.

The first is Crooked River Lighthouse, which was built completely out of iron to withstand hurricanes in 1895. Before electricity, lighthouses relied on a special optic called a fresnel lens.

“A fresnel lens, you know, is the glass stacked prisms that were invented in Europe and they became the main way you could project a light as for as you could,” explained curator and program developer Joan Matey.

The light was critical for sailors navigating the shallows surrounding the barrier islands.

Next is Marks Lighthouse in Wakulla county. Workers originally began construction on this lighthouse in 1829. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in Florida.

The St. Marks lighthouse we see today is the same that stood during the Civil War, when the refuge around it was a battle ground.

Salt boiled on the marshes were critical for the confederates, who needed salt to preserve their food.

Union soldiers fought relentlessly to keep the resource from the South.

“Every night in particular, the Union ships could see fires and they would aim at all of these salt rendering spots and destroy them and when morning came people went right back in and built them back up again,” said Constance Clineman, Visitor Services ranger at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

Those who harvested the salt were excused from military service.

The final monument is the Cape St. George Island lighthouse. This lighthouse was recently rebuilt after crumbling into the sea in October 2005.

But rather than leave it as an artificial reef, St. George island residents chose to restore the landmark.

Volunteers salvaged and hand cleaned the bricks from the fallen lighthouse, building a new one at the island’s center.

“When we reconstructed it here, we went back to it’s original plans from the national archives and used as much of them,” said Amy Hodson, Executive Director of the St. George Lighthouse Association. “We had an architect actually flesh out the details a little bit to make it a more buildable plan to rebuild the lighthouse but, they used the original stairs because those were in the original incarnation of the lighthouse.”

The lighthouses of northern Florida stand now in the present, illuminating the past.

Both the Crooked River lighthouse and the St. George Island lighthouse are open to visitors. But the St. Marks lighthouse museum is still closed due to the pandemic.

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