Digest>Archives> December 2004

A Return Visit to the Cape Romain Lights

By Stephen Wilmoth

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The entrance to the 1827 tower.
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

An account and photos of a visit by Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter to the two lighthouses of Cape Romain, South Carolina, was posted on the Lighthouse Digest web site (www.lhdigest.com) in August 2002. These lighthouses, built in 1827 and 1857, are within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. They have both been dark for many years, and as can plainly be seen from the photos from a more recent visit, their condition continues to worsen.

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A view of the 65-foot 1827 tower from the ...
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter


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Inside a storage room in the 1857 tower.
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

Our second adventure back to the Cape Romain lighthouses began in a similar fashion as our previous trip in 2001. The meeting time at the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center was 9 a.m. After taking a few minutes to get acquainted with other people taking the trip, we took our seats in the lecture hall, where Tommy Graham, a local advocate for the lighthouses, gave a very enjoyable slide presentation on the lighthouses and their history. Then we all got into our vehicles and headed north to the small town of McClellanville.

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The interior of the base of the 1827 lighthouse ...
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

The two-person crew from Coastal Expeditions greeted us at the boat as we boarded. Along the way on the boat ride, we were treated with wonderful views of the marshes, several species of birds, and a few dolphins playing alongside the boat. The trip to the island took close to an hour due to the winding route through the marshes.

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The rusty stairs to the watch room level of the ...
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

Since we had taken the trip before, we were quite prepared for what was about to happen. By the time we arrived at the island, Christina and I were prepared to wade onto the island. The captain came as close as he could to the island, then let down the wooden ramp. Once we got clearance to go, we were the first off and we walked down the ramp and into the muddy salt water and wadded ashore. Then we headed up the overgrown trail to the lighthouses.

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Several of the bottom steps are missing from the ...
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

Being the first ones to make it up to the lighthouses, we decided to photograph the 1827 tower first while no one got in the way of our photos. As we cautiously walked up to the tower, I began taking a photo of the entrance to the tower when one of the native goats came running out of the entryway of the tower and ran off into the brush. I was very disappointed that I was not able to get a photo of the goat, especially since we didn’t see one alive on the previous trip.

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The underside of the rusty stairway in the 1857 ...
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

Disappointed, we cautiously entered the base of the tower and began taking our photographs. The tower seemed to be in about the same condition as it was during our first visit. We then exited the tower and took a good look at the cisterns, one of which remains in pretty good condition, located near the tower. Then we focused on the 1857 tower.

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A view of the two towers from the western side of ...
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

We waited our turn to climb the tower. During our 2001 visit, we were allowed to climb to the top of the tower and step out of the door at the gallery level to enjoy the wonderful view. The lantern room was also open for us to enjoy. Since 2001, some of the stairs have become loose inside the tower, and the building has been condemned. This time, we were allowed to climb only to the first landing in the tower, which is, in my estimate, about 30 feet above the ground.

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This photo looking up at the lantern room dome in ...
Photo by: Stephen Wilmoth and Christina Walter

After climbing to the landing, we took a number of photos cataloging the part of the interior of the tower that was open to us. Rust completely covered the stairs and the center post that held the stairs in place. The condition of the iron staircase can be directly attributed to nearly 30 years of being exposed to the moist salt air. All the windows in the tower were either blown or broken out, allowing the corrosive elements of the coastal environment to erode the integrity of the staircase. The windows have since been replaced, but the damage was done.

The brickwork inside the tower also shows the age of the tower. The brickwork hasn’t had any restoration since the tower was originally built. Time and the elements have caused the mortar, along with the bricks themselves, to crumble and loosen from the tower. After a good look at the interior, we descended the stairway and exited the tower. After taking a few more photos of the tower and surrounding area, we headed back down the path to rejoin the group aboard the boat.

Wading back through the muddy water, Christina and I took turns climbing the ramp to board the boat. Once on board, we began the trip back to the mainland, discussing the wonderful experience we’d just had. Back at the dock we departed the boat, said goodbye to all the nice folks that we had shared our memorable experience with, and headed for home.

For information on the tours to these lighthouses, call the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center at (843) 928-3368. Stephen Wilmoth is the Webmaster of “The Beach Bum’s Site” at www.beachbum.homestead.com, which has lots of information on lighthouses, lightships and lifesaving stations.

This story appeared in the December 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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