In 2001, the Coast Guard gave the Amelia Island Lighthouse, oil house, and surrounding property to the City of Fernandina Beach. Since that time, the city has been responsible for the maintenance of these structures and the property. The city is overseeing the current restoration of the lighthouse tower, which has been funded by a $350,000 grant donated by the Florida Division of Historical Resources. Worth Contracting, Inc. is completing the restoration work in cooperation with Kenneth Smith Architects, both firms located in Jacksonville, FL.
The only parts of the lighthouse currently owned by the Coast Guard are the lens and related equipment, as the lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation. Volunteers in the Coast Guard Auxiliary assist the Coast Guard in maintaining the working light. Since the major focus has been on the restoration of the lantern room and the parapet (gallery), a modern optic has been placed on the exterior of the tower until work is completed. Though protected from being damaged, the historic third order Fresnel lens still remains in the tower. The glass window panels have been removed from the lantern room while work is underway.
The landing of the parapet, its supports, and railing are all made of cast iron. Salt air and the lack of maintenance over the years have caused the ironwork to rust and weaken. The railing and the parapet landing have all been removed, along with one of the supports. From these pieces, molds have been cast and completely new identical pieces have been formed and will be placed on the tower. The remaining supports still have to be removed before the new pieces can be put into place. This is proving to be a difficult task.
Workers must scale the tower using a “spider,” which is a special device used to hoist workers up the sloping sides. The brickwork must then be carefully removed from around the supports to minimize damage to the remaining brickwork.
Since the bricks that are being removed from the tower cannot be reused, restorers of the lighthouse structure faced another problem.
The present lighthouse was erected in 1838, and was partly constructed using materials salvaged from an 1820 lighthouse on Cumberland Island, Georgia. The original brickwork used in the construction of the tower was different than what is made today. Luckily, matching bricks have been obtained from a supplier of historic bricks, which came from other structures that fell into disrepair. Once these bricks are on site and available for workers to utilize in the restoration, the new supports, parapet landing, and railing can be installed.
Plans are being made by the city to open the tower for public viewing on a limited basis. Small groups will be allowed to visit the lighthouse and climb the sixty-nine granite stairs for an excellent view of Amelia Island and the Atlantic Ocean.
For information on visiting the lighthouse, contact: Parks and Recreation Department, 2500 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, (904) 277-7350.
Stephen Wilmoth is webmaster of “The Beach Bum’s Site” which contains photos and information on lighthouses, lightships and lifesaving stations. www.beachbum.homestead.com
This story appeared in the
June 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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