A Bright Idea: Modern Lighthouses

by: Davis Yancy Clegg

The Amelia Island Lighhouse


Long before ports, like the one that served as the lifeblood for Fernandina Beach for so long, maritime pilots inland or at sea only had fire to guide their way. That’s right, fire. Those responsible for navigating the ships in would build a fire atop a hill, in order to direct sea traffic safely to shore. Eventually, common sense prevailed. They began building platform structures to build the fires on to improve visibility by lighting up a greater height. This is how the modern method came into thought, and the first lighthouses were beginning to be developed. In the beginning, the focus was placed more on the lighthouses serving as an entrance marker to ports, rather than a warning of eminent contact with reefs and other obstacles. It is unclear exactly what methods were used to make the most efficient use of the illuminated towers of old. Since there is very little literature about the operation of the antiquity age of lighthouses, speculation has been the main means of discovery. It is believed that some used combustible liquids in the mix to make the fire last throughout gales and long nights. Another method believed to be effective was the use of mirrors to compound the visibility in low-visibility conditions.

The Amelia Island Lighthouse from Ft. Clinch ParkAmelia Island is known mainly for its’ historic charm and value. Architects and enthusiasts alike come to witness the endurance of the finely built structures that form the cityscape. Tourists come from all around the world to sight see and take in the beauty that can be seen from the historic, downtown streets. Along with the number of structures in downtown, the entire island plays host to a number of historic structures. The oldest of which is considered to be the Amelia Island Lighthouse. In the year of 1820, the Amelia Island Lighthouse was constructed on Georgia’s Cumberland Island. In 1838, it was decided the lighthouse should be moved to Amelia. It was dismantled and reconstructed within a year. In the earliest of times, light was only achieved by burning oil lamps, and the use of reflectors. These lights have been powered since the early 1930’s. The lighthouse can be seen above the tree line on Atlantic Ave, and from the water – of course. Because the lighthouse was assembled in a residential area, it is not open to the public for unsupervised touring. The Coast Guard operates the lighthouse, and they allow tours the first and third Wednesday of every month. The tours depart from the Atlantic Ave. Recreation Center at 10 am, which is located just across the street and down Atlantic Ave a bit.

Advances in structural engineering and new and efficient lighting equipment allowed for the creation of larger and more powerful lighthouses, including ones exposed to the sea. The function of lighthouses shifted toward the provision of a visible warning against shipping hazards, such as rocks or reefs. Still, nothing compares to the charm of the beginning stages of what helped to form the existence of modern lighthouses. Before you leave our little paradise, be sure and stop by to marvel at the oldest structure to date on the island!


You may not be able to see the Amelia Island Lighthouse from one of our cruises but our Beach Creek Tour goes by another historical building; the Dungeness Mansion.  

Check out this exciting tour!





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