St. Augustine’s – Coquina Lighthouse

The Coquina Lighthouse
In 1683, the Spanish government replaced the wooden tower with a structure made of coquina stone. The new structure was a complex that included a watchtower, guardhouse, well, and an ammunition storage house, all surrounded by a high coquina wall. With each succession of national ownership, the complex was refurbished and enlarged, attesting to its strategic importance for the safety of the town it guarded. The towerís importance as an aid to navigation certainly increased over time as the harbor became a trade destination.

Within six months of Florida becoming a United States territory in 1821, the Territorial Council forwarded a request to President Monroe for lighthouses to be built at Pensacola and St. Augustine. As a result, the Spanish coquina guardhouse/watchtower was converted to a true lighthouse. On April 5, 1824, Juan Andreu was named the first lightkeeper of the first lighthouse in the State of Florida. Ten big oil lamps in front of mirrors produced the light.

In 1855, Joseph Andreu, cousin of Juan Andreu, had to learn how to use the new lard oil lamp and a new fourth-order Fresnel lens. In 1859, Joseph Andreu fell to his death while painting the tower. His wife, Maria de los Dolores Mestre, took over and became the first female lightkeeper in St Augustine. Some claim that the ghost of Joseph Andreu still inhabits the new lighthouse.

During the Civil War, Florida joined the Confederacy and the flame was extinguished in 1862 by Captain George Gibbs to prevent Union attack by sea. Paul Arnau, collector of customs in Saint Augustine, removed and buried the lens. It was eventually recovered, but the light was not relit until 1867.

The New Brick Lighthouse
By 1870, it was evident that the sea was encroaching upon the coquina lighthouse and it was in danger of collapse. Authorities acquired five additional acres of land west of the old tower and construction began in 1871. The new lighthouse was built of brick on a concrete foundation. 1 St. Augustine, Currituck, and Bodie Island lights are the same lighthouse design except for the paint schemes. Paul J. Peltz was the Chief draftsman for the Lighthouse Board. He later designed the Library of Congress. The first order Fresnel lens was first lit on October 15, 1874 and the fourth order lens was decommissioned. 2 Four years later the old coquina keeper’s house fell into the ocean. The tower collapsed in a storm two years later.

In 1885, the Lighthouse changed the lamp fuel to kerosene. The kerosene lamp contained five concentric wicks. In 1909, a kerosene incandescent oil-vapor lamp was installed. This lamp used a single mantle. In 1936, the St. Augustine light became the last Florida lighthouse to get electricity. Since there was no oil to carry or soot to clean off the lens the number of keepers was reduced to two.

In 1939, the U. S. Lighthouse Service was abolished and its duties were transferred to the United States Coast Guard. In 1955, the light was automated. A photocell gauges sunlight intensity and turns the light bulb inside the Fresnel lens on and off. On-site keepers were no longer needed. Lamplighters, Coast Guard employees living off-site, regularly checked on the light. Since automation, the lens rotates continuously. This prevents flat spots from developing on the bronze carriage wheels from the weight of the lens. The movement also breaks up the sunís rays during the day.

The Junior Service League of Saint Augustine for 11 years had labored to breathe life back into the keeper’s house and secure the future of the tower.

Open Daily at 9:00 AM
It is recommended that you allow at least one hour to tour the site and climb the tower. The last ticket to climb the tower is sold at 5:45 pm. The site closes at 6:00 pm. During July and many holidays we are open until 7:00 pm, with the last ticket being sold at 6:45 pm. The Lighthouse is closed Thanksgiving Day, December 24th and December 25th.

During inclement weather, the observation deck and /or tower may be closed for your safety. If the weather looks threatening, please call us at 904-829-0745 to check the tower’s status.