Chris J LeBlanc Photography - Lighthouses
Providing details and historical information of lighthouse pictures taken during my travels
Key West Lighthouse
Key West, Florida
© 2011 - Chris J LeBlanc Photographer
Location: Located at 938 Whitehead Street in Key West.
Latitude: N 24.55066
Longitude: W 81.800885
Year Constructed: 1847 (station established 1825). Inactive since 1969.
Tower Height: 86 feet Focal Plane: 100 feet
Old-style brick tower (raised from 66 ft in 1894). A 3rd order Fresnel lens (1858) is still in the lantern though not in use
- Station Established: 1825
- Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1895
- Foundation Materials: NATURAL EMPLACED
- Construction Materials: BRICK
- Tower Shape / Markings / Pattern: White tower and black lantern,; detached white dwelling with green blinds.
- Original Lens: Third Order, Fresnel, 1847
- The original light was built in 1825. Construction was approved and would have started in 1824, but the boat carrying Samuel B. Lincoln sunk while on route to Florida from Boston. Original plans were for the light to be built on one of the keys of the coast of Florida, but it was realized that these islands were completely submerged at times. Because of this the first tower was built on the most southern point of Key West. This did not prevent the tower from being destroyed by a hurricane in October of 1846. The hurricane inundated Key West with five feet of water and destroyed all but 8 of the 600 houses in Key West. This was before hurricanes were named – but it became known as the Great Hurricane of 1846. The storm crossed over Cuba, Key West up through Georgia, the Carolinas and into the Chesapeake Bay causing a great deal of destruction along the way.
- The current Key West Light was built in 1847
- In 1886 the original keeper dwelling was torn down and the current building were built.
- In 1989 the Light was deactivated.
- In 1992 Monroe County acquired the light.
- In 1998 the station was nominated as a National Historic Landmark.
In December 1824, it was decided that the lighthouse should be built at Whitehead’s Point, the southernmost point on Key West. The conical tower was built of brick and measured sixty-five feet from its foundation to the base of its lantern, which had been manufactured in the north. A collection of fifteen lamps fueled by whale oil served as the tower’s light source, and Keeper Michael Mabrity first touched flame to wick at the light on January 13, 1826.
October 10, 1846 was a stifling day in Key West. Hardly a whisper of wind blew, but by late afternoon erratic waves started to strike the shore near the lighthouse. As the lamps were lit that night, dark clouds were gathering in the west and the barometer started a precipitous fall. By morning, it was obvious to everyone that another hurricane was bearing down on Key West. The storm surge accompanying the event covered Key West in five feet of water, and all but eight of the roughly 600 homes on the island were severely damaged or destroyed. Fourteen people who sought refuge at the lighthouse died as the tower collapsed in the surf.
A temporary beacon, a tripod supporting a signal lantern at a height of thirty feet, was built near the site of the former lighthouse and remained in operation until a replacement tower was built. The new lighthouse, was constructed a half-mile inland. The lighthouse was completed by January 15, 1848. The new tower stood fifty feet tall, fifteen feet shorter than its predecessor, but its position atop one of Key West's "hills" (fourteen feet above sea level) about made up for the difference.
A third-order Fresnel lens, recently arrived from Paris, was placed in the Key West Lighthouse in 1858, where it remains to this day. Three red sector panels were later added to the lantern room to identify dangerous approaches to Key West.
Key West Lighthouse Links
Historic Postcard of Key West Lighthouse