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St. Marks Lighthouse on Florida's Gulf Coast and Its Civil War History

Thelma Raker Coffone is an award-winning writer who enjoys writing on a variety of topics, especially lighthouses.

Florida's Historic St Marks Lighthouse

Painting by William Trotter and reproduced in book Florida Lighthouses by Kevin McCarthy

Painting by William Trotter and reproduced in book Florida Lighthouses by Kevin McCarthy

Having survived over 100 hurricanes, St. Marks Lighthouse on Florida's Gulf coast plays an important role for ship navigation on Apalachee Bay, part of the Gulf of Mexico on the east side of the entrance to St. Marks River.

A national historic site, the lighthouse is located in the 68,000 acre St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. It is surrounded by fresh water and brackish (mixture of seawater and fresh water) ponds and wetlands which are homes to alligators and many species of birds including whooping cranes. Each October there is a massive influx of beautiful monarch butterflies on their long journey across the Gulf of Mexico.

Building of Florida's St. Marks Lighthouse

In the early 19th century, after several shipwrecks caused by the shallow waters at the entrance to the St. Marks River, Congress approved the construction of a lighthouse at a cost of $11,765. It was completed in 1830, however, officials refused to accept it and charged the builders with deliberate fraud against the United States government. The contract called for the walls to be solid but it was built with hollow walls, obviously an attempt by the builders to make more money on the project. It was rebuilt and completed in 1831. Due to erosion, it was rebuilt again in 1842.

The tower walls are four feet thick at the base and taper up to 18 inches at the top. It sits on a limestone base which is 12 feet thick. There are 85 steps up to the lantern room which houses a modern solar powered light which can be seen for 15 miles. To give the tower strength during hurricanes, the keeper's house is attached to it, which is uncommon in southern lighthouses. The tower color design pattern for St. Marks lighthouse is solid white with a black lantern top.

Attached Keeper's Quarters are Uncommon in the South

Surrounded by Palm Trees and Majestic Oaks

Surrounded by Palm Trees and Majestic Oaks

St. Marks Civil War History

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the town of St. Marks, Florida was a small but very active seaport. Farmers from the central part of the Florida panhandle and south Georgia would bring their crops to Tallahassee and put them on the state's first railroad, owned by the Tallahassee Railroad Company. They would be transported down to St. Marks to be loaded on ships and sent to ports around the world. The Union forces recognized how important this was to Confederate commerce so plans were made to seize the capital city of Tallahassee and stop the shipments.

The Confederates believed the Union soldiers would come ashore at the lighthouse, so a small group of soldiers camped at the lighthouse to wait. A fleet of 16 Union ships arrived and began shelling the area with bullets. The Confederate soldiers were outnumbered and fled but not before they made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the lighthouse to keep the Union troops from using it as a lookout post.

A thousand Union soldiers marched toward Tallahassee from St. Marks, only to be stopped at Natural Bridge by the Confederates, including my great-great grandfather. The Battle of Natural Bridge has been called the last significant Southern victory of the Civil War.

The Lighthouse Ghost

Many lighthouses are rumored to be haunted and St. Marks is no exception. The ghost of former lighthouse keeper Benjamin Metcalf is said to be on the job watching over St. Marks light. Supposedly, his voice has been heard, foot steps have made noise in the night and strange lights have been seen. Why these occurrences have been attributed to Keeper Metcalf is unknown but it sure makes a nice story and adds a lot of mystery to a visit to St. Marks Lighthouse

A Visit to the Lighthouse

When my husband and I visited a few years ago, we were the only people at the lighthouse on a beautiful spring day except, of course, Keeper Metcalf! Prior to our trip, I found much useful information about the area and its history by reading Florida's Lighthouses in the Civil War.

Owned by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge is located just off US Highway 98 in St. Marks, Florida. There is a visitor's center at the entrance where you can obtain maps and visit the gift shop. Proceed about 7 miles on Lighthouse Road where it ends at the lighthouse. The grounds are open daily but the tower is only opened during special occasions such as Florida Lighthouse Day.

For outdoor enthusiasts, there are hiking and biking trails, a picnic area, several observation decks for photo opportunities and a boat ramp next to the lighthouse if you want to bring your boat to fish or view the lighthouse from the water.

If you are planning a visit, the address for your GPS is 1255 Lighthouse Rd., St. Marks, FL 32355. Telephone: 850-925-6121

Learn About Lighthouses as a Family Project

Lighthouses are an interesting topic for adults but kids love them too! Take the opportunity to spend some quality time with your family while learning more about these beautiful landmarks and their importance in our American history.

Start by reading books together about lighthouses to learn how they work, why they are needed, and the colorful stories of the lighthouses and their keepers. An excellent source of information is Florida Lighthouses for Kids, written by a distinguished lighthouse historian. It has many pictures and is geared toward an adult and child reading it together. A 2nd grade teacher recommended it to me.

Follow up with a family trip to see these majestic towers firsthand. There is even a program where you can enjoy your vacation while living and working in a real lighthouse. You and your children will become lighthouse enthusiasts before you know it!

How do you rate St. Mark's Lighthouse as a recommended lighthouse to visit?

© 2012 Thelma Raker Coffone

Please Share Your Comments on "St Marks Lighthouse, One of Florida's Gulf Coast Lighthouses"

Bill C on November 03, 2018:

The keepers quarters as well as the lighthouse have been restored. Tours are scheduled monthly, currently the first Friday and Saturdays. 10-4. Please check the SMNWR website or call for an update. Beautiful restoration with artifacts from past keepers families.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on August 28, 2014:

Randy I don't think St. Marks lighthouse gets enough attention except from those of us that are familiar with it. It is a wonderful place to visit which I am sure you have done since you don't live very far from it.

Thanks for your nice comments.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 27, 2014:

Strange that I've never noticed this hub before, Thelma. A fine article about this historic landmark and its construction. Enjoyed the read!

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on August 27, 2014:

I hope you visit it someday. You won't be disappointed. Thanks for reading my article and for your nice comment!

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on August 27, 2014:

I will have to put this lighthouse on my list of lighthouses to visit. Thanks for the great information.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on May 26, 2014:

mgeorge1050 you will truly enjoy visiting it. The day my husband and I went, we were the only two people there. It really gave me the opportunity to reflect on my ancestors that helped to settle the area. Thanks for reading my hub and for your nice comments.

Alan from West Georgia on May 26, 2014:

What an interesting and beautiful landmark. I did not get a chance to see this lighthouse while recently in Alligator Point, but it sounds like it will be there for generations to come. I will be sure and visit this historic site the next time I am in the area. Thanks for a great hub.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on September 13, 2012:

SommerDalton thanks for your comments. It is one of my favorite memories of the day my husband and I visited this lighthouse. We were the only people there and it was a gorgeous day!

Sommer Dalton on September 13, 2012:

I love visiting lighthouses and this article! The east coast are my favorites!

Thumbs up and very informative!

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on June 01, 2012:

Barb I agree that our lighthouses should be cherished. They are so beautiful and a most important part of our history. Thanks for your nice comments!

Barbara Anne Helberg from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA on May 31, 2012:

@ThelmaC...From one lighthouse lover to another, great job on this Hub about St. Marks!

So many lighthouses in America are crumbling without anyone to rescue them, but there are many others for which communities have rallied to begin restoration projects. We should cherish the ones that are still in good condition, whether or not they are currently operational.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on April 23, 2012:

Thank you for reading my hub on St. Marks Lighthouse and for your nice comment. It is truly a very beautiful lighthouse and I enjoyed my visit there very much!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on April 23, 2012:

Wow...this was beautiful lighthouse. I hope I can see this while I travel to USA one day. Thanks for writing and share with us. I love the picture above. Voted up and awesome!

Prasetio