The Lure of Lighthouses Lives On

By Kathalyn Gaither

Bill Baggs Cape Florida LighthouseWhat do the Cape Florida Lighthouse, the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, Maine’s Marshall Point Lighthouse and Massachusetts’ Gay Head Lighthouse all have in common? They were each prominent features in a popular Hollywood movie: Cape Florida – “Heartbreakers,” Chicago Harbor – “Meet the Parents,” Marshall Point – “Forest Gump,” and who could forget the Gay Head Lighthouse featured in “Jaws?”

There is a certain mystique about lighthouses and to celebrate their important role in history, Aug. 7 is recognized as National Lighthouse Day. In Florida, 32 lighthouses remain along the state’s coastline and four of these historic lighthouses can be found in a Florida State Park.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park lighthouse was built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846. It is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. The lighthouse has been closed for repairs and will reopen for tours when repairs are complete.

The centerpiece of Gasparilla Island State Park is the restored Boca Grande Lighthouse, built in 1890. The lighthouse is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, November through April. The remaining months it is open Wednesday through Sunday, except during August when it is closed. The Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum and Visitor Center exhibits tell the story of the lighthouse and southwest Florida during that era.

Accessible only by private boat, the Egmont Key State Park lighthouse has stood proudly since 1858. In 1848, it was the only lighthouse along the Gulf coast between Key West and St. Marks. The lighthouse is 133 feet tall and can be seen for 22 miles. The light flashes every 15 seconds and a foghorn operates during poor visibility. Located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, the island serves as a wildlife refuge; the lighthouse is not open for tours.

Also accessible by private boat or ferry, a picturesque 1887 lighthouse stands as a sentinel on the southern end of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, just west of Tarpon Springs. It was decommissioned in 1984 after years of vandalism left only its cast iron shell. In 2003, the lighthouse once again shone having been repaired, repainted and restored. Today, a full-time park ranger resides on the island to ensure this historical symbol is protected. Two ferry services leave from Tarpon Springs’ historic Sponge Docks to the island; however, the lighthouse is not open for tours.

To learn more about all of Florida’s lighthouses, visit the Florida Maritime Heritage Trail website created by the Department of State’s Division of Historic Resources.

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