Digest>Archives> July 1999

Crisis at Florida Light

By Timothy Harrison

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St. Johns River (Mayport) Light, Florida. For ...
Photo by: Jerry Biggs

For 140 years Florida's historic St. Johns River (Mayport) Lighthouse has weathered the wrath of Mother Nature's storms, and hurricanes, and through it all, it has stood proud and tall, remaining to this day as a monument to the men and women who kept its beacon shining through the night to save life and cargo. Now, the lighthouse is threatened by a different type of storm, one that may change its history forever.

Although the lighthouse is not threatened by erosion, or anything else for that matter, a group of powerful community leaders have decided that the lighthouse should be moved to a new location and be used as an ornament for a new development.

On June 30th of 1997, at a major public ceremony, attended by many notables and politicians, Commander Jan Gaudio, Naval Station Mayport, stated that the United States Navy, would turn the lighthouse over to the Mayport Lighthouse Association which had drawn up plans for the historic redevelopment of the property to restore it to its original light station appearance. The U.S. Navy, in turn, would move the security fence, which now serves as a barrier preventing public access to the lighthouse, a short distance back from the lighthouse, allowing the public easy access to the tower.

Shortly after the ceremony, the Navy withdrew its offer to turn the lighthouse over to the group.

However, according to the Florida Lighthouse Association, Commander Gaudio has apparently decided to give the lighthouse instead to the Mayport Waterfront Partnership (headed by the former base commander, John Meserve) who wish to move the lighthouse to a site they wish to develop. Although Meserve's group, has stated the lighthouse would be restored, and made accessible to the public, in fact, it would serve primarily as an attraction for the benefit of a profit making business.

Meserve states that by moving the lighthouse it woulod be saved from the public isolation imposed by the Navy, and it would serve the greater econmic development needs of the community. That statement "would warm the heart of any civic minded individual," states Andy Liskis, President of the Mayport Lighthouse Association, except for one thing, "Moving the lighthouse would destroy its historical integrity."

Here is where we reach the fine point of the words, "historical integrity." Many lighthouses have been moved and they did not lose their historical integrity, however, those lighthouses were moved because they were in danger of being lost forever due to erosion. On the other hand, since there is no threat to the lighthouse at its current location, in this case, moving it to make it the focal point of a community development, would indeed cause the St. Johns River Lighthouse to lose its historical integrity. To state it plain and simple, a lighthouse should only be moved if it is threatened by loss due to erosion or some other disaster occurring.

However, the United States Navy, the City of Jacksonville and the Waterfront Partnership have moved ahead with a feasibility study, and the Navy has already engaged engineers and contractors to prepare plans and documents to move the lighthouse.

The fact that the United States Navy had previously agreed, in a public ceremony, to turn the lighthouse over to the nonprofit Mayport Lighthouse Association and allow them to restore the lighthouse at its present location and then back down on that agreement, is wrong. The lighthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, should be made available for the public to visit, climb and enjoy right where it is.

To move a lighthouse that does not need to be moved is wrong!

We would encourage our readers to write letters to the following public officials asking them to do the right thing, in fact, what the United States Navy had originally promised to do. Request that they ask, or even demand, that the United States Navy turn the St. Johns River Lighthouse over to the Mayport Lighthouse Association to be restored and maintained, right where it is, at the same location where it has stood for 140 years.

Letters should be addressed to:

Capt. Jan Gaudio, Commanding Officer

Naval Station Mayport

Mayport, FL 32228-0112

Representative Tillie Fowler

4452 Hendricks Ave.

Jacksonville, FL 32207

Senator Connie Mack

1 San Jose Place Suite 9

Jacksonville, FL 32257

Senator Bob Graham

325 John Knox Road, Bldg. 600

Tallahassee, FL 32303

This story appeared in the July 1999 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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