Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lighthouse Love

Hunting Island Lighthouse in South Carolina photo by Dear Miss Mermaid copyright
Hunting Island Lighthouse
South Carolina

The Hunting Island lighthouse in South Carolina (shown left) is unique in many ways.

One; it is open to the public.

Two; it was built for the possibility of being disassembled, moved, then reassembled.

Three; as of 1970, it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Four; it was built to be fireproof.  Oil was  used to light the beacon.

Five; it was built  twice then 14 years later it was dismantled and moved. In 1859 the first one was built but in  1862 the Civil War destroyed it. The second  one was completed in 1875. In 1889 it was moved a mile southeast (inland) due to beach erosion.  It was deactivated in 1933 when it was replaced by a lighted whistle buoy offshore. In 1938, South Carolina State Parks acquired the island from Beaufort County.

Six; the lighthouse at Cape Canaveral in Florida was also built the same way, with the segmented iron plates bolted together and a brick interior lining. It too has been disassembled, moved and reassembled.

All lighthouses have a distinct paint job unique to that lighthouse only, hence you will never see any two in America painted identically.

The Cape Canaveral lighthouse on the east coast of Florida is the only fully functioning lighthouse owned by the United States Air Force. However, they did not take ownership until 1970.  (It is located on Patrick Air Force Base, which was not established at the time the Cape Canaveral lighthouse was originally built.)

At Hunting Island, as a child I climbed the iron spiral staircase inside the lighthouse numerous times.  At each landing is an iron floor the shape of a half pie. As kids we dreamed of having bedrooms on different levels with a view of the ocean out the window. We didn't know that in reality, the lighthouse keeper and his family resided in a separate abode nearby. Matter of fact, so did his two assistants and their families, all sharing one large two-and-a-half story house.

I remember waving at my parents down below from the top most railing at the light of the lighthouse. Today, all children must be accompanied by an adult while climbing the lighthouse and be a minimum of 44 inches tall. I don't recall my parents ever climbing the lighthouse. Perhaps they did one year, and I just don't remember it.

Oh what I would love to be but a child of the lightkeeper at Hunting Island back in the day. I could romp at the beach, go crabbing and pick fresh fruits from the garden. 

During the lighthouse's operation, goods were brought to the island by ship, unloaded at the wharf on Johnsons Creek, then astonishingly, rode upon a 3,000 foot tramway to be stored in out buildings at the lighthouse, including the barrels of lamp oil.  Rain water was collected on the roof of the lighthouse keepers' structure, stored in a cistern, then used for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning. The outbuildings also housed an outhouse. The families  grew an organic garden full of produce to feed themselves.

In 1938 when the South Carolina State Parks acquired the island, the corps of engineers moved into the lightkeepeers dwelling.  They were charged with building a bridge to connect the island, along with other improvements.

During a card game late one night, an oil lantern was knocked over, burning the 12 room dwelling to the ground.

It must have been hugely embarrassing to be sent to this gorgeous outpost on the beach, surrounded by water, and managing to literally burn the  house down.

Rumors abound they were gambling, drinking and brawling when the fire broke out. After losing their housing, to such debauchery, I bet that bridge was completed in record time.

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