Message from the Director
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is more than just a simple light station. As we keep the light burning we also reach back across the centuries to discover and present to you stories of our earliest connections to the sea. Maritime history was influential to the birth of our nation and our light station has been witness to the unfolding events.
A Spanish light existed here in the 16th century not only to guide ships into port, but also to protect the first coast in time of armed conflict. It existed specifically to defend this spot along the Caribbean trade routes from potential settlement by the French. An active aid-to-navigation manned with a soldier and signal fire was a defensive component central to growth and security in virtually every port in the new world. Nowhere was an aid-to- navigation erected and permanently kept in place earlier than in St. Augustine.
A Spanish tower was at St. Augustine when William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. The first watchtowers were here when Halley’s comet was discovered in 1682 and when the Castillo de San Marcos was built from 1672 and 1696. In 1737, the wooden towers were fortified and replaced with coquina (shell rock). This new compound included a housing area, storage facilities, and an outer wall. Florida’s first official lighthouse was re-lit, this time officially by the United States Congress, in 1824 on this site. The current tower followed it in 1874, as the old Spanish watch tower fell into the sea a few years later, a victim of erosion.
Over the years, the beacon at St. Augustine was the traffic light for a maritime highway that welcomed schooners, steamers, and messenger vessels from every major European power. Some ships held building materials, others brought artificers or soldiers or goods for trade. As the light shone here, the first free African American settlement in Florida, and our nation, was established as Fort Mose. Our port bustled with former slave trading ships and privateers. The light was darkened during the American Civil War and the lens hidden to block Union supply lines. Two lighthouse towers stood and were recorded in drawings made by Native Americans imprisoned at the Ft Marion during the 19th century. The coming of Henry Flagler’s railroads and grand hotels changed the importance of the lighthouse for commerce but did not reduce its military function. During World War II, armed guards were stationed here as German submarines prowled the coast. Later, the local shrimp boats depended on the lighthouse for safety as the city grew. Tourists have been attracted to our light since the 19th century, and today we serve over 185,000 a year.
Today our museum is alive with stories of remarkable achievement. One of our most important goals is offering programs of value and meaning to our community. We make a difference by gathering, safekeeping, and sharing the stories about our continuing connection to the sea. We literally keep the front porch light for St. Augustine shining. We preserve, protect, and keep alive the history of our nation's oldest port city.
We hope you will join with us as we engage in the many different programs offered for children and adults. Through maritime programs we build knowledge and self- esteem for young people and offer opportunities to explore careers in the marine sciences. We help preserve lighthouses nationwide by sharing the remarkable story of a small group of community volunteers who saved our light station a quarter of a century ago. Join us as we remember the struggle and sacrifice of our veterans who gave their lives to defend our nation. Dive with us under the sea as we send museum archaeologists to explore a collection of shipwrecks rich in the multi-cultural history of our young country. Climb 219 steps to experience with us a remarkable and inspiring view of the old city from atop the tower. Our museum serves and belongs to our expanding community. We are growing and doing more every day. Please visit us often and enjoy all we have to offer.