When I was growing up our family lived near Hunting Island State Park, in Beaufort, South Carolina. We would go camping there for a night or two, but most of the time we would go there for the day to enjoy the beach along the Atlantic Ocean.
The one game we always played on the way to the park was seeing which one of my sisters, brother or myself would be the first one to spot the lighthouse as we drove across the four-mile causeway leading to the barrier island. I don't know exactly how this game got started, but I have a good idea it was my Mom's way of getting us to settle down and pay attention to what was going on around us so our Dad could drive in peace. It always worked until one of us spotted the lantern room standing out above the tree line. Then you would hear one of us yell out, "THERE IT IS, I SEE THE LIGHTHOUSE!"
We all looked forward to getting out of the car and jumping into the ocean for a cool swim. Just as soon as that task was completed, we ran to climb the lighthouse. We never felt our trip to Hunting Island was complete without a climb to the top of the lighthouse. Sometimes our parents would try to leave the park without us climbing it. For some reason they were tired and ready to go home (hot sun, sand, four kids pulling them all the time). Go figure! But if we begged them enough they would always give in to us.
The view from the top of the lighthouse was beautiful. To the east you could see forever out into the Atlantic, to the south the entire length of the island's tree-tops, to the west the drawbridge, the marsh and the causeway we came across, to the north Edisto Beach. By land Edisto was a ninety-mile drive, but only nine miles by the way the light shined. I remember the day my parents showed me Edisto, they pointed north and said, "there it is, can you see?" I replied yes and "I can see their lighthouse too." Then they told me something that would have an impact on me for the rest of my life. They said, "son, Edisto does not have a lighthouse, that's a water tower you see." I guess I had always thought everybody had a lighthouse in his or her neighborhood. I think it was then that I understood how special lighthouses really were.
A number of years later, while in high school, I took a summer job working at Hunting Island State Park. The park superintendent assigned me to the day use area to assist park rangers with the daily cleanup and maintenance duties. Part of those duties was to clean the lighthouse and complex area. I climbed that lighthouse just about every day for two summers and I never got tired of that beautiful view from the top.
I fell in love with the park, the job and the lighthouse. I had also found my chosen career. I applied for a park ranger position and was accepted - that was twenty one years ago. I was sent to a park about 200 miles away from home. Ten months later I received a promotion and was sent to Edisto Beach State Park.
In the daytime I was able to see the Hunting Island Lighthouse. At night you could not see anything because the light was removed in 1938 when the lighthouse was decommissioned. Sometime during my three years stationed at Edisto, I realized my goal was to go back to Hunting Island. Once there I knew I could work to enhance, interpret, protect and preserve that beautiful structure.
Five promotions and ten years later I achieved one of my career goals. Not only was I stationed at Hunting Island once again, but I was now the park superintendent.
Hunting Island State Park receives 800,000 visitors each year. Because of this annual visitation, budget restraints, lack of manpower and some mismanagement, the lighthouse and support buildings were not exactly in the best condition or being used properly, the lighthouse had received some coats of paint over the years and minor maintenance repairs, but was not protected as it should have been. In the past, park rangers would unlock the doors in the morning and lock them in the evenings. Visitors would come and go, doing anything they wanted. Because no attendant was on duty at the complex, this procedure allowed vandals to cover the interior with graffiti and other foreign objects. The support buildings for the lighthouse were used over the years as lifeguard quarters, office space, and supply and surplus storage. Windows and doors were modified to fit the need at the time.
The plan I had made for the light station included several steps. (no pun intended)
1. Paint the interior and exterior walls to enhance the appearance and protect the structure.
2. Remove all modifications and restore the out buildings to their original condition.
3. Remove from the station, the ship's anchor and Kiosks that were not part of the original station.
4. Put an attendant on duty during operational hours and pay this staff member from funds collected from a modest admission fee.
5. Put interpretive displays into place to educate visitors about the history of the lighthouse.
6. Install a rotating light back into the lantern room. (I always thought that if you had a lighthouse, you should have a working light.)
At the time I arrived at Hunting Island, the State Park service also received a new director. Many years earlier I had a conversation with this same person and had told him of my goals. So, with the support of my supervisors and staff, I began putting my plan into action. Some things came about quickly while others came along slowly or not at all. I was introduced to the same villain past superintendents had run up against, budget restraints. But I had four things going for me that other superintendents did not. 1. A love for this lighthouse. 2. Determination. 3. Management and staff support. 4. A lot of luck. (I really think blessed.)
Luck came in the way of volunteer support. This support was both monetary and personal. I was blessed enough to find a group of citizens in our community that believed in state parks, our cause, and believed in me. This group of volunteers formed together to become, "The Friends of Hunting Island State Park." Through their support we have achieved many goals, not only at the lighthouse, but other areas of the park as well.
We now have in place a team and a plan that should preserve our lighthouse both now and into the future. As for me, I am enjoying my dream of being Superintendent of Hunting Island State Park and Keeper of the Hunting Island Light Station.
Brief History of Hunting Island Lighthouse
By Timothy Harrison
The first lighthouse built at Hunting Island, South Carolina was a stone and brick tower built in 1858-59. In 1863 an engineer of the Lighthouse Board was dispatched to examine the lighthouses in the area to see what damage had been done during the Civil War. His report stated that the lighthouse had been "undermined and thrown down." It was not clear if the lighthouse was destroyed from erosion or destroyed by Confederate troops. However, his report did state that "St. Helena Sound Lighthouse was blown up;" "Combahee Bank Light-vessel was burnt;" "St. Simons Island light-house, blown up;" and "Wolf Island beacons, blown up."
Since the words he used in his report to describe Hunting Island were quite different we might assume that the first light was destroyed by erosion which in fact was a problem at the lighthouse which is somewhat substantiated by the 1873 Report of the Light-House Board. This report stated, "The site for this light-house has been selected at a point nearly a mile from the north end of the island. This was deemed necessary, as the north point of the island is still washing away under the abrasive action of the sea." Further in the report it stated, " In view, however, of the continued washing of the shore it was determined to make the light-house of cast iron, in sections, which can be taken down and removed in case of necessity, though it is not believed that such an emergency will arise."
Interestingly enough is the fact that the Hunting Island Lighthouse was to be made of iron. The use of iron plates for building lighthouses on dry foundations, although used commonly in other countries, met early, with little favor in this country by the Light-House Board. However, once greater knowledge of iron as a material for construction was understood, it came into favor. Other prominent iron towers built in that era were those at Cape Canaveral, Florida; Bolivar Point, Texas; and Cape Henry, Virginia.
The Light-House Board received much criticism for building the Hunting Island Lighthouse (in 1875) on a site fully one quarter of a mile from the sea. However, they should have built it further away from the sea. Each report in further years reported the erosion problems faced at Hunting Island. Each report contained information on replacing jetties, building new ones, digging drainage ditches and all of the standard erosion fighting battle techniques.
Finally, the 1887 Report of the Light-House Board stated that if the lighthouse was not moved, the tower which originally cost $102,000 would be lost forever. Finally on December 19, 1889, work began on moving the tower to its new location. The first major project was to repair 3000 feet of the old tramway and to grade and construct 6500 feet of new tramway between the old site and new site of where the tower was to be moved. The tower was then dismantled, piece by piece and moved to its new site. The work was long, hard and tedious and although all the work of moving the station was not fully completed until March of the following year (1890), the tower was actually relighted on October 3, 1889.
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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