Few architectural structures can boast the unique blend of history and beauty composed in lighthouses. Dating back to 1716, lighthouses in the United States were originally built for their practicality as opposed to aesthetics. They served as warnings for ships at sea to avoid running aground during dark nights and hazardous weather and to guide them safely to harbor. Throughout treacherous weather conditions and natural disasters, lighthouses stood as symbols of caution and safety. Today, they are windows into our Lowcountry’s history and icons of our stunning coastlines. While many are now inactive, some lighthouses still light the skies, while others serve as historical sites for local communities and visitors.
St. Simons Lighthouse, St. Simons Island, Georgia: The first lighthouse on St. Simons Island was built in 1810 by James Gould on four acres of land deeded to the federal government by John Couper. When building the lighthouse, James Gould used a material called “tabby” which consists of oyster shells, lime, sand and water. During the Civil War, Confederate troops evacuated St. Simons Island, but only after they tore down the lighthouse to prevent Union troops from using it as a navigational tool. Rebuilt in 1872, the new 104-foot lighthouse was constructed by Charles Cluskey and included a keeper’s dwelling which served as a home to lighthouse keepers until 1950. The lighthouse still serves as an aid to navigation every night to ships off the coast of St. Simons Island.
Morris Island Lighthouse, Morris Island, South Carolina: The Morris Island Lighthouse can be seen from both Folly Beach and James Island. The lighthouse was originally constructed in 1767 but was destroyed during the Civil War. Since being rebuilt in 1876, the 161-foot lighthouse has encountered multiple natural disasters throughout the years. In 1885, a cyclone damaged the lighthouse, and in 1886, an earthquake created a crack in the lighthouse and shook the main light out of position. Most threatening to this lighthouse, however, has been the natural erosion of the beach. In 1962, officials closed the lighthouse as erosion caused it to become too close to the shoreline. It now stands a few hundred feet off the coastline and serves as a historical site.
Hunting Island Lighthouse, Hunting Island, South Carolina: Originally built in 1859, the Hunting Island Lighthouse was destroyed at the beginning of the Civil War as the Confederacy was afraid that Union soldiers would use the lighthouse for navigation purposes. It was rebuilt in 1875 and relocated 1 1/4 miles inland in 1889 due to beach erosion. Until it was deactivated in June 1933, the Hunting Island Lighthouse provided safer navigation for ships at sea by cautioning them to avoid the island.
North Island Light, near Georgetown, South Carolina: The North Island Light is one of two lighthouses constructed in the late 1790s. A hurricane destroyed the lighthouse in 1806, and it was rebuilt with white-washed brick in 1812. Until it was captured by Union soldiers in May 1862, the lighthouse served as a lookout station for the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war ended, the damaged lighthouse was repaired, and a keeper’s house and boathouse were added to the property. The North Island Light was the last lighthouse in the state to be de-staffed, becoming automated in 1986. The lighthouse is now on National Register for Historic Places.