Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I am fascinated by lighthouses. I have a collection of lighthouses in my home.

Despite the fact that Alabama has the shortest coastline of any Gulf Coast state, it has the largest Bay - Mobile Bay. Early on during the War of 1812 the United States took control of the bay. Work began at this point in 1819 building the fort known as Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay. The first lighthouse completed in 1822 cost $9,995. The lights were finally lit on Sept 29, 1822.

In 1864 at 7:30 in the morning a fleet of ships commanded by Admiral Farragut approached the entrance into Mobile Bay. The ship The Tecumseh sank. It was at this critical time that Admiral Farragut gave the famous command "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."
The first lighthouse was destroyed during the war and another was built in it's place. It was at this time a new dwelling was built for the lighthouse keeper. The keepers complained about that the military was harrassing them. On one such conflict in 1887 the chief engineer in Mobile sent a letter to the fort's ordinance sargeant notifying him that the word was that the wife of the lighthouse keeper was living in the quarter at Fort Morgan. ( A little hanky panky goin on.) A new steel skeletal tower was built in 1963 after the other was torn down.

The Mobile Point Lightouse today. This lighthouse is currently located at Fort Morgan in downtown Mobile.

Captain John Grant at the age of 25 was known as the "Father of the Gulf Coast Transportation" and single handedly improved access to Mobile Bay by dredging the Bay. The channel was dredged to to a depth of 17 feet and made way for larger vessels to enter the Mobile Bay. This prompted the construction of another light house located in the middle of the Bay and thus became The Middle Bay lighthouse. The house was prefabricated in the north, this due to the high labor cost in post-Civil-War South era. The lighthouse arrived in 1885.
During World War 1 the Keeper and his wife had a baby at the lighthouse. The mother was unable to produce enough milk to nurse the infant. Instead of the mother and child being sent to shore a small coral was created on the lighthouse and a milk cow was transported to the lighthouse.
In 1967 the Coast Guard received permission to demolish the lighthouse. Several organizations rallied together to prevent this from happening. A major restoration project ensued. With a grant of $349,400 Thompson Engineering initiated the restoration of the Middle Bay Lighthouse. At the top of the lighthouse the red flashing light was replaced by a six foot pole with a solar powered red light.
It has been proposed that the lighthouse be moved to Battleship Park for visitors to tour. Battleship Park is home to the USS Alabama and the USS Drum which are already attractions and bring in about 300,000 visitors each year.
Middle Bay Lighthouse today.
Dauphin Island is home to the Sand Island Lighthouse. During the early 1800's when the structure was built in occupied 400 acres. Today it is down to less than an acre. In 1837 Congress allotted $10000 for improvements to the lighthouse. By 1848 it had become apparent the the island was losing ground. In 1863 John W. Glenn, a confederate leader, placed 70 tons of gun powder under the tower and lit the fuse. A temporary lighthouse was built and then 9 years later a permanent structure was built and put on operation in 1870. By 1888 only 10 feet of sand separated the lighthouse from the Gulf. Rather than abandon the lighthouse jetties were built in the gulf and 1600 tons of granite were placed around the tower. In 1906 a powerful hurricane hit the gulf coast and a telegram was sent describing the damage: "Sand Island light out. Island washed away. Dwelling gone. Keepers not to be found." Keepers were forced to live in the base of the tower until a new dwelling was built in 1925. In 1973 the structure burned down.

Due to regulations the ownership of the lighthouse had to be transferred from the federal government to Alabama Historical Commission. The Alabama Historical Comm regected an offer of the lighthouse saying that it would cost too much to restore. That is when the town of Dauphin Island stepped up to obtain ownership in 2003.

Sand Island lighthouse today.

I have not toured any of these lighthouses personally due to the fact they are only accessible by boat. That does not change my fascination with lighthouses.


Mildred said...

I agree there is something enchanting about lighthouses and their keepers. I enjoyed reading the interesting history of these today. It seems like I read a good, clean mystery about a lighthouse to mother one time by Phyllis Whitney. I'll see if I can find the title for you.

Mildred said...

The book is "Mystery of the Gulls."

Becca's Dirt said...

Mildred - I have not read that one - but Phyllis Whitney is a very good author. I will have to look into that one.

Also I read a book Mary Higgins Clark about a lighthouse. It's been a long time and can't think of the title.

Dirt Princess said...

I love to ride by sand island light house. We saw some whales there oneday...of course we didn't have a camera.

Prospero said...

Since I now live next to a lighthouse, I can appreciate these structures much better. I love the black and white shot of the Sand Island lighthouse.

bennie and patsy said...

Thanks,I enjoy knowing the history of lighthouses.

Rosehaven Cottage said...

I've always found lighthouses fascinating too. They are so beautiful in their stalwart solitude. I've often wondered what the personality of a lighthouse keeper must be like.


gardenerprogress/Catherine said...

I love lighthouses, I had no idea that Mobile had such a large bay! The stairs in lighthouses always make me nervous!

TheWritersPorch said...

Hey, Becca,
In answer to your question about coming to Mobile. I was joking about coming to harvest your garden when it comes in! However I do go to Mobile occasionally to the Flea Market.I'd love to meet you both!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

I have a fascination also, Becca, for lighthouses. When I went to New England ---we saw several neat lighthouses. I took alot of pictures --but haven't scanned any of them to use on blogs yet. I haven't seen many, but George and I did see a couple of neat lighthouses when we were near Tybee Island (near Savannah). I'll blog about them sometime.

Enjoyed reading the history on the lighthouses near Mobile.


Phoenix C. said...

What a fascinating array of lighthouses! There is something very romantic about them. My godfather ran away from home and became a lighthouse keeper!

EB said...

What a fascinating post! In England you can stay for a holiday in a cottage at several lighthouses. A company called Rural Retreats is agent for some of them. Their cottages are wonderful - amazingly well equipped and nice to be in. Not a cheap option though.

Deb said...

I love light houses too! Thank you for becoming a follower of my blog, I look forward to getting to know you!