We love lighthouses and have toured them from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest coast, so we were excited to discover Florida’s tallest lighthouse, near Daytona Beach. The 175 foot tall Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse is one of the best preserved and most authentic historic light stations in the country.
The lighthouse construction project, originally called the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse, got off to a tragic start back in 1884 when the chief engineer, Orville E. Babcock, and three workers drowned in the inlet soon after work began. The setback did not delay things long and the tower was finished three years later. On November 1, 1887, Chief Light Keeper William Rowlinski lit the first kerosene lamp in the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens. Ships twenty miles out to sea could see its signal.
Rowlinski, a Russian immigrant, was the first in a succession of light keepers. Life was not easy in the early days at the light station. The inlet was home to alligators and poisonous snakes, rainwater was collected for drinking purposes, and supplies had to be brought overland. Hurricanes and tornadoes presented other dangers. But the brave light keepers and their families never shirked their duties. They were always there, and always on the ready to provide aid to ships and their crews who might come into trouble.
Thomas Patrick O’Hagan succeeded Rowlinski as Chief Light Keeper. During O’Hagan’s tenure, author Stephen Crane, best known for his Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, was shipwrecked nearby in 1897, when the steamship SS Commodore went down. Crane and three other men floated in a lifeboat for nearly thirty hours before making it to shore. He wrote about the experience in his classic short story The Open Boat.
Over time, improvements were made at the light station. A new well was dug to provide a more reliable water supply and a windmill and water tank tower were erected. A few years later the original kerosene lamp was replaced by a more modern incandescent oil vapor lamp. In the 1920s, the light keeper’s and assistants’ homes were improved with indoor plumbing and a generator to provide electric power. In 1926, the local land speculators and business interests decided that the name Mosquito Inlet probably wasn’t helping tourism much, and the name was changed to Ponce de Leon Inlet. Later improvements include an upgraded revolving flashing lens powered by a 500 watt electric lamp and a radio beacon to improve navigation.
When the Lighthouse Service was abolished in the late 1930s, the lighthouse was transferred to the Coast Guard. During World War II, the light keepers’ families were ordered out of the light station and the buildings were converted to barracks for the Coast Guardsmen who protected the lighthouse and stood watch against Nazi submarines, which prowled the coast and took a heavy toll on commercial shipping.
In late 1953, the lighthouse was completely automated, and light keepers were no longer needed. In 1970, the old light station was decommissioned and the Coast Guard established a new light on the south side of the inlet.
Over time vandals did a lot of damage to the historic lighthouse and it was in danger of being torn down. Fortunately, a group of concerned citizens saw its value and convinced the government to deed the old light station to the Town of Ponce Inlet.
The non-profit Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association was founded in 1972 and began efforts to restore the old light station and operate it as a museum. That same year the light station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of only a handful of 19th century light stations with all its original buildings still intact. Years of hard work followed for the association’s dedicated volunteers, and in 1982, the light in the lantern was restored to active service. In 1998, the light station was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Today the facility is one of the most authentic and best preserved historic light stations in the country. Visitors can walk the grounds, tour the three light keepers’ dwellings that house exhibits on lighthouse history and what life was like there when this was an active light station, and climb the 203 steps to the top of the tower for magnificent views of the Daytona Beach, Ponce Inlet, and surrounding inland waterways. A gift shop has souvenirs and books on lighthouses and Florida history.
Located on the north bank of Ponce Inlet, where the Halifax and Indian Rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum is just ten miles south of Daytona Beach. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter, the lighthouse is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission is $6.95 for adults, and $1.95 for children age 3 to 11. Age 2 and under are free. The roads and parking area are not suitable for large RVs.
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum is not located within the adjacent Lighthouse Point Park. Admission to Lighthouse Point Park does not include access to the lighthouse or museum. For more information, call (386) 761-1821 or visit the lighthouse’s website at http://ponceinlet.org/
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So far over 70 people have entered our lastest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Dog’s Run, my mystery set in a small Midwestern town in 1951. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – I used to have a handle on life, but it broke.