“Although we probably would not build one like it today because of the cost and technological advances in radio navigation, the existing lighthouse is no less important today than when it was first built. There are still many seaman who depend on it for safe navigation,” said CWO Charles Kemnitz, Commanding Officer, USCG Station, Lake Worth, Florida.
Kemnitz was speaking at the relighting ceremony at the Jupiter Inlet (Florida) Lighthouse. This past April 28th, the lighthouse was relit after a seven-month outage for a restoration costing almost a million dollars. Until the light was turned off for the repairs, it hadn’t missed a night in over a hundred years. Even during the World War II years when the light’s intensity had been reduced, it was never extinguished.
The original appropriation to build the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse in 1853 was $325,000. Construction was finally completed and the light first lit in July 1860 at a total cost of $60, 859.98, a large sum of money in those days.
Construction and operation of the 108-foot tall tower on a 48-foot high hill, (now thought to be a Native American shell midden) has been spotty at best. The building of the lighthouse was halted from 1856 to 1857 because of the Third Seminole War. When construction resumed in 1858, intense heat and hoards of disease-bearing mosquitoes plagued the workmen. The light was also turned off between 1861 and 1866 by Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War. In 1928 a hurricane blew out one of the bulls-eye lenses, which was later reconstructed and reinstalled.
Unique in the history of United States lighthouse stations, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse has had all five branches of the U.S. Military garrisoned there. Some of their missions were so secret at the time that few people even now know about them. But that’s all part of the lore of this lighthouse.
The focal plane height of the First Order Fresnel lens, manufactured in Paris by Henry-LePaute, is 146 feet and the light can be seen at sea level from between 16 and 24 miles. From a passing aircraft the light is visible for approximately 40 to 50 miles.
The extensive restoration to the interior of the tower was designed to bring the structure back to its prime condition, as it would have been seen in the mid to late 1800’s. The lens was also refurbished under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard.
The lighthouse is stated to be the oldest existing structure in Palm County and it is still operated as an active aid to navigation.
This story appeared in the
June 2000 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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