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 Tybee Island, GA    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Fee charged.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Lighthouse appeared in movie.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: In 1733, General James Ogelthorpe founded the colony of Georgia and established the town of Savannah, seventeen miles upstream from where the Savannah River meets the open Atlantic Ocean. Early on, Ogelthorpe realized the importance of a marker on Tybee Island at the mouth of the river and ordered a ninety-foot, wooden structure erected there. After construction on the tower had started, Ogelthorpe became upset at the lack of progress being made and jailed the head carpenter, threatening to hang him. The carpenter's crew pled for his life, promising they could complete the tower in five more weeks. During the next sixteen days, they accomplished more than they had in the previous sixteen months. Apparently, government contractors earned their reputation centuries ago. The tower, used as a daymark for vessels entering the river, was completed in 1736.

Tybee Island Lighthouse with 1887-1914 daymark
Unfortunately, the tower collapsed during a storm in 1741, but a replacement tower was already in place the following year. The new structure, built of stone and wood by Thomas Sumner, was ninety-four-feet-tall and topped with a thirty-foot flagpole. The encroaching sea cut short the life of the second tower, and a third tower was erected farther from the shoreline in 1773.

The third tower rose to a height of 100 feet, was constructed of brick with wooden stairs and landings, and makes up the bottom section of the current Tybee Island Lighthouse. After Georgia ratified the Constitution in 1790, the tower was ceded to the federal government. President George Washington directed that a "plain stair case" be used in modifications made to the tower in 1793 rather than a more expensive "hanging stair case," and, for the first time, the tower was outfitted with an official lamp. Candles with reflectors were first used atop the tower before being replaced with whale oil lamps.

A fifty-foot tower was built seaward of the lighthouse in 1822, and an array of lamps in the shorter tower paired with those in the main tower functioned as a range light. As American lighthouses adopted the use of Fresnel lenses, Tybee Lighthouse received a second-order lens in 1857, while the front light was given a fourth-order lens. Now, instead of having to tend multiple lamps, the keepers were responsible for just a single lamp in each tower. The efficient Fresnel lens, with the single lamp at its center, greatly increased the range of the lights.

In 1861 during the War Between the States, Confederate forces abandoned Tybee Island for the safer confines of Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, roughly two miles upriver. Before retreating, the troops removed the lens and set fire to the lighthouse, burning the wooden stairs and landings. Union soldiers occupied Tybee Island and bombarded Fort Pulaski with newly developed rifled Parrot guns, prompting the surrender of the fort in just thirty hours.

In 1866, after the end of the war, a reconstruction crew began work on the lighthouse, using $20,000 appropriated by Congress on April 7, 1866 and another $34,443 provided the following year. Work was progressing well until federal troops arrived on the island bringing with them cholera. The foreman and four workers died from the disease, prompting the remaining workers to flee the site. A replacement crew was brought in to complete the work. Only the bottom sixty feet of the 1773 tower was salvageable, and on this base an additional ninety-four feet of tower was added, bringing the total height to 154 feet. A new, fireproof cast-iron staircase with 178 treads formed the spine of the lighthouse, and a first-order Fresnel lens was placed in the lantern room. The all-white structure, flanked by new keeper's dwellings, displayed its fixed white light for the first time on October 1, 1867, along with a new fourth-order beacon light displayed from atop a fifty-foot skeletal tower.

Tybee Island Lighthouse with 1916-1965 daymark
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
According to reports by the Lighthouse Board, Tybee Island Lighthouse sustained significant damage during a hurricane in 1871. Five faces of the octagonal tower exhibited dangerous cracks, and the Board requested $50,000 to commence building a new tower as it was considered impractical to repair the existing one. Money never was provided for replacing the main light, but on March 3, 1877, Congress allocated $3,000 for replacing the frame beacon, which had been moved twice since its completion in 1867, with a more stout iron tower. A new residence for the head keeper was built in 1881, and the illuminant for the lighthouse was changed from lard oil to kerosene in 1884. A new dwelling had to be built for the first assistant keeper in 1885 to replace one destroyed by fire, and that same year a galvanized wire screen was placed around the lantern room to protect it from birds.

In 1886, an earthquake, a rare occurrence for the east coast, struck the area. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1887 summarized the damage to Tybee Island Lighthouse:

The earthquake of last August extended the cracks that have been observed in this tower for several years and made some new ones, but not to any dangerous extent. The lens was displaced and the attachments to its upper ring were broken. The damage was repaired without delay. The entrance for which these lights made a range … is gradually moving to the southward and in January last it became necessary to move the front beacon 98 feet in that direction.

Battery Garland, a part of Fort Screven, was built east of the between 1898 and 1899, and in 1901, the Lighthouse Board noted that the firing of heavy guns at the battery was bringing down the plastering in the principal keeper's dwelling. Ceiling boards, finished in hard oil, were installed in the dwelling instead of the plaster.

Electricity reached the lighthouse in 1933, replacing kerosene as the light source, and the staff at the lighthouse was reduced to just one keeper, George Jackson, who served until his death in 1948. The Coast Guard, who took control of the tower in 1939, occupied the station buildings until 1987, when they moved to a modern facility on Cockspur Island.

Tybee Island Lighthouse with 1970-1999 daymark
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Otho O. Brown became office in charge of Tybee Island Lighthouse in 1961, and after two years at the station, he was paid a visit by Admiral Stephens, who had come to make an unannounced inspection. During Brown's time at the lighthouse, he had put the station in sparkling condition. The masonry tower was completely scraped and repainted, inside and out, and Brown had participated in the development of a new prototype Light Attendant Station boat. Admiral Stephens commented to Brown, "your leadership, initiative and enterprise are considered of the highest degree and your performance of duty is considered ideal." That was the first time the Admiral had used the word "ideal" to describe a man's performance of duty.

In 1998, Tybee Island Lighthouse underwent a major restoration after Tybee Island Historical Society had spent twelve years raising the nearly half a million dollars needed for the project. International Chimney Corporation of Buffalo, New York served as general contractor, and Scottish masons, Irish painters, and local craftsmen were recruited to work on the lighthouse. From 1970 through 1998, the top half of the lighthouse was black and the bottom portion was white. When the lighthouse was painted as part of the restoration, the top and bottom portions of the lighthouse were painted black and the middle section white. The lighthouse had sported this particular daymark for more time than any other (from 1916 to 1964). To see a picture of the various daymarks used on the Tybee Island Lighthouse click here.

Following the renovation of the lighthouse in 1998-99, the head keeper's house was restored in 2000-01, the first assistant's dwelling was renovated in 2003-04, and from 2005-08 attention was placed on the second assistant's house, which was converted into a lecture hall, art gallery and audio-visual space.

The tireless efforts of Tybee Island Historical Society were rewarded in 2002 when they received ownership of the station under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The lighthouse was one of the first to be transferred under the act. Visitors to Tybee Island Lighthouse today are treated to one of America's most complete and well-maintained light stations. The five-acre site is home to the lighthouse, a head keeper's house built in 1881, a first assistant's house built in 1885, a second assistant's house built in 1861, a summer kitchen built in 1812, an oil house built in 1890 to house the volatile kerosene fuel, and a garage built in the 1930s.

The lighthouse is still active, illuminating the skies above Tybee Island nightly with its first-order lens.

Head Keepers: James McAnnully (at least 1813 – at least 1816), Henry Cragg (at least 1821 – 1834) , Patrick Ramsbottom (1835 - at least 1836), William T. Baker (1840 – 1850), James King (1850 – 1852), William Robbins (1852 – 1853), Dennis Holland (1853 – 1854), Edward Styles (1854 – 1865), Allen Cullen (1865), James Webster (1865 – 1866), Richard Larye (1866 – 1868), William H. Cohen (1868 – 1870), William Hunt (1870), George Sichel (1870 – 1873), Patrick Comer (1873), H.William Reed (1873 – 1875), Thomas Bergen (1875), Fred W. Symons (1875 – 1876), James McBride (1876 – 1877), Patrick Egan (1877 – 1881), Andrew Anderson (1881 – 1882), William O’Reilly (1882 – 1888), Peter Jacob (1888 – 1900), John S. Evans (1900 – 1901), Hans Thorkildsen (1901 – 1906), Thorwald Danielsen (1906 – 1907), Franz Traugott (1907 – 1914), Fred H. Bruggerman (1914 – at least 1921), George B. Jackson (at least 1930 – 1948).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. The Historic Tybee Island Museum and Light Station, Informational Pamphlet.
  3. "The Lighthouses of Georgia," Buddy Sullivan, The Keeper's Log, Spring 1988.
  4. Georgia's Lighthouses and Historic Coastal Sites, Kevin McCarthy, 1998.

Location: Located on the southern side of the mouth of the Savannah River.
Latitude: 32.0221
Longitude: -80.8455

For a larger map of Tybee Island Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Interstate 516 in Savannah (just south of Interstate 16), take Highway 80/26 East for about 19 miles to Tybee Island. At the first stop light on the island, turn left onto Campbell Avenue. When Campbell Avenue ends take a left onto Van Horn Street and then a right onto Meddin Drive. Follow Meddin Drive to the north side of the Tybee Island Lighthouse where there is public parking.

Tybee Island Lighthouse is open every day, except Tuesday, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The lighthouse is also closed on St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. For more information, call (912) 786-5801.

The lighthouse is owned by the Tybee Island Historical Society. Grounds/dwelling/tower open.

Find the closest hotels to Tybee Island Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Located just seaward of the Tybee Island Lighthouse is Battery Garland of Fort Screven, which is now home to the Tybee Island Museum. Besides being a great place from which to photograph the lighthouse, the museum contains numerous exhibits detailing the history of Tybee Island. Fort Screven was built for the Spanish American War and was used until the end of World War II.

Tybee Island Lighthouse appears in the opening scenes of the movie The General's Daughter. There are a couple of shots of the lighthouse, sporting an earlier daymark and in need of a new paint job. Right after the second shot of the lighthouse, they cut to a view of a clam-shell lens revolving in a lantern room. This clearly isn't the lens at Tybee Island as it is a fixed, first-order lens. I'm quite certain the lens shot was filmed at Point Vicente in California. The lighthouse can also be seen in the 2010 movie The Last Song.

Marilyn writes:
We loved this lighthouse! We spent so much time there both day and night that we could be docents. Seriously, it is worth the visit at night too. The fort is very cool too, but those people must have been darn short which didn't work well for me and barely did for Joanne.
Joanne writes:
Night and day, day and night, both are spectacular. Be sure to tour the fort as well and watch your head when going through the doors.

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