A Bit on Lighthouses in General...
Lighthouses assist a navigator in verifying positions and safe courses, marking channels and warning the navigator of any dangers or obstructions to certain routes. Usually, lighthouses can be identified by their light color and flashing lights at night and by the shape and color of their daymark during the light hours. Typically, the lights shine from sunset to sunrise--possibly a little longer due to extended twilight and/or poor visibility. Most lighthouses today have apparatus that is mechanically extinguished at first light. The equipment is serviced intermittently to guarantee reliable operation.
The original St. Simons Lighthouse began as a dream of a young architect from Granville, Massachusetts named James Gould. Even as a young boy, Gould dreamed of building a lighthouse. He began work on his light's blueprints when he was a teenager. Gould moved to St. Simons Island as a young man and quickly fell in love with the island and it's people. In 1804, John Couper, a St. Simons Island plantation owner, deeded four acres of land to the federal government for the price of one dollar, as a site for the island's first harbor light. In 1807, James Gould was hired by the Treasury Department as chief architect of a project to build the lighthouse on the northside entrance to St. Simons Sound. The tower was completed in 1808. It was composed of brick and tabby and stood seventy-five feet tall, twenty-five feet in diameter. A ten-foot lantern (lit by oil lamps suspended on chains) topped the white, tapering, octagonal structure. Gould, appointed by President Madison, became the lighthouse's first keeper in 1810. This job required that he climb the tower and tend the lights several times per day, including periodic checks throughout the night. Gould, however, was a man dedicated to the fulfillment of his dream and to his people. He remained the keeper for 27 years, until 1837, when his health no longer permitted him to do so. The Lighthouse Board raised his lighthouse to the level of coastal light in 1857.
The current lighthouse, completed in 1872, stands twenty-five feet from the original site. It was built to replace James Gould's lighthouse, which was destroyed by the Confederate Army in 1862 (the original site is still marked by ropes). The current structure was built by Charles Cluskey, one of Georgia's most renowned architects. It is a white conical tower attached to a brick dwelling. The small house was once the lightkeeper's cottage. However, the oil lamps and chains were replaced by a Fresnel lens (French, hand-made) and timers in 1953, eliminating the need for a keeper. The house now serves as the Museum of Coastal History. The tower itself stands 106 feet high and 104 feet above water. White lights are used, both fixed and flashing. The nominal range (maximum distance at which a light may be seen at a meteorological visibility of ten nautical miles) ranges from eighteen nautical miles for fixed lights to twenty-four nautical miles for flashing fixtures. Flashes occur (not exceeding) once per minute.
The St. Simons Lighthouse was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. The Coastal Georgia Historical Society signed a contract with the Coast Guard in 1984 which allowed museum visitors to climb the 129 steps to the top of the lighthouse. By signing this contract, the Society also accepted responsibility for the lighthouse's maintenance. However, the Coast Guard still checks the light periodically.
Museum hours - 9 a.m.-5p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1:30-5p.m. on Sundays. Open Mondays, effective Memorial Day 1996. Adult admission is $3.00; $1.00 for children (ages 6-11), with children under six years admitted free; admission is free with CGHS membership.
The lighthouse is open to the public and can be climbed during regular museum hours.
Good books to read on St. Simons and the lighthouse:
Lighthouse by Eugenia Price (factually-based novel on James Gould, builder of first light on St. Simons Island).
-Historic Glimpses of St. Simons Island, 1736-1924 (Coastal Georgia Historical Society).
-The Light of Other Days by Caroline Couper Lovell.
Being a member of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society entitles you to receive a quarterly newsletter; attend lectures, seminars, and special openings; participate in field trips, tours and workshops; free admission to the St. Simons Lighthouse and the Museum of Coastal History; access to the society's archives and library; and 10% off museum publications and gifts (all proceeds go to the preservation of the lighthouse). For more information, write:
-Coastal Georgia Historical Society
P.O. Box 21136
St. Simons Island, Georgia 31522-0636
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