The lighthouse was to be built atop a hill with an elevation of forty-six feet. Given the flat terrain surrounding the area for miles, the mound seems somewhat of an anomaly. During restoration work in 1999-2000, archaeologists uncovered shells and pottery fragments in excavations made on the hill near the base of the tower. The artifacts are believed to be remnants of a Native American colony, dating from around 700 AD.
With the completion of the lighthouse plans, five hundred tons of building materials were assembled and shipped to Indian River Inlet, roughly thirty-five miles north of Fort Jupiter Reservation. The supplies were then transferred to shallow draft scows, which carried the cargo across the Indian River bar. From there, it was a laborious journey through a shallow, narrow, and crooked channel to reach the construction site. As each scow could carry ten tons, fifty trips were needed. This difficulty in transporting the construction material was just the first of several unforeseen obstacles in building the lighthouse.
In 1855, just as construction on the tower had started, a group of careless surveyors in the Everglades destroyed the prized banana plants of Chief Billy Bowlegs, touching off the Third Seminole War. Fearing an attack by the enraged Indians, George Meade requested small arms and ammunition for his “unarmed and totally defenseless” laborers. Work on the lighthouse was eventually suspended due to Indian hostilities in the area, but in 1858 the conflict was resolved and construction resumed. The Indians, however, were not the only inhospitable neighbors to threaten the workers. With Jupiter Inlet silted closed, the stagnant water surrounding the site became a perfect breeding ground for a more life threatening foe – mosquitoes. Several of the men contracted “Jupiter Fever,” a combination of malaria and yellow fever, and those that didn’t still had to suffer through the “heat of the weather” and “swarms of stinging insects.”
Brick by brick, the tower slowly rose to its preordained height of 108 feet. A circular stairway with 105 treads led from the base of the tower to the lantern room, where a magnificent first-order Fresnel lens manufactured in Paris by Henry-Lepaute was installed. When revolving, the lens’ four bull’s-eye panels, grouped in two pairs and separated by metal panels, produce the repeating cycle of two flashes followed by a period of darkness.
After $60,859.98, almost twice the original appropriation, was spent on the construction work, the lighthouse finally commenced operation on July 10, 1860. It wasn’t long however, before work at the lighthouse was again interrupted by war – this time the Civil War. In August 1861, a “band of lawless persons” visited Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, and “removed therefrom the illuminating apparatus.” Three men from Indian River, at least one of whom as an assistant at Jupiter Inlet, took it upon themselves to extinguish the lights at Jupiter Inlet and Cape Florida and then sent a letter to the governor of Florida detailing their success: “At Jupiter we destroyed no property whatever, the Light being a revolving one and of very costly make, we took away only enough of the machinery to make it unserviceable-- There is a quantity of property belonging to the Light consisting of Tools, machinery, Paints, oil &c which we have secured under lock and key.”
It is unclear exactly what was removed, but the light at Jupiter Inlet remained dark throughout the remainder of the war. The missing parts of the “illuminating apparatus” were recovered in a palmetto hammock near Lake Worth Creek by Captain James A. Armour. When the light returned to operation on June 28, 1866, Captain Armour was appointed an assistant keeper under William Davis.
In 1867, two years before he was promoted to head keeper, Captain Armour persuaded Almeda Carlile to be his bride and relocate to remote Jupiter Lighthouse, where she would be the only white woman for a radius of one hundred miles. The Armours had eight children at the lighthouse, the oldest of which, Katherine, would marry Joe Wells an assistant at the lighthouse under her father. Joe would succeed Captain Armour when he retired in 1908 after more than forty years of service. The small cemetery near the lighthouse contains the stillborn children of Joe and Katherine Wells.
The Amour children were known to board the school boat eating bear-meat sandwiches. Bears would frequent Juno Beach to dig up turtle eggs, and the older Amour sons would bag an occasional bear to supplement their meat supply.
On October 20, 1872, the steamer Victor broke a shaft off Jupiter during a storm and was driven ashore south of the lighthouse. The passengers and crew made it safely to shore, but soon thereafter the vessel started to break apart spilling its valuable cargo into the water. This unforeseen bounty provided the keepers with a Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine and three dogs, which they named appropriately Vic, Storm, and Wreck.
The first-order lens revolved atop a “wheel chariot” until 1915, when a “ball-bearing chariot,” which used thirty-six 1-1/4-inch ball bearings, was installed in the lantern room at a cost of $550. This improvement reduced the weight required to drive the lens by forty percent.
Captain Charles Seabrook became head keeper of Jupiter Lighthouse in 1919, a position he would hold until ill health forced his retirement in 1947. During his watch, a fire on February 29, 1927 destroyed the original keepers’ dwelling, which was home to the assistant keepers. The tower was electrified in 1928, when a radiobeacon was added to the station, but the keepers soon discovered that electricity wasn’t always as reliable as an oil lamp.
On September 16, 1928, reports were received of a powerful hurricane bearing down on Florida’s southeast coast. By that evening, the winds had reached gale force, and the power to the lighthouse reservation failed. The backup diesel generator wouldn’t start, and the tower would have remained dark that night, if Captain Seabrook, in spite of a badly infected hand, hadn’t installed the old lamps inside the lens. There was still one more problem. Since the weights had been removed earlier that year, there was no automated way to rotate the lens. Noticing red streaks running down his father’s arm from his infected hand, sixteen-year-old Franklin Seabrook volunteered to perform the needed task. While trying to climb the steep stairs leading up the hill to the tower, Franklin was blown back four times. Once safely inside the lighthouse, he had to ascend the tower, which was swaying an estimated seventeen inches at the top. For four hours, Franklin manually rotated the lens, timing the revolutions as accurately as he could. As he worked, he could hear “cracking sounds as the mortar was ground out from between the bricks by the working of the iron bolts holding” the lantern room. During the storm, glass panes in the lantern room were shattered and one of the lens’ bull’s-eyes was blown out. Through all this, the light did not go out.
Captain Seabrook had the damaged bull’s-eye shipped to Charleston where it was reassembled and fitted with iron crossbars to hold it together. The repaired bull’s-eye was then reinstalled in the lighthouse and is readily identified today by the giant “X” running through it. A new double dwelling for the assistant keepers was built in 1929 to replace the one lost to fire two years earlier. In 1931, Captain Seabrook planted a Banyan tree, which is still thriving today. This photograph shows the station’s various outbuildings in 1941, before the keeper’s dwellings were demolished in 1959.
The Loxahatchee Historical Society initiated public tours of Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse in 1994. A gift shop and museum for the lighthouse are housed in what were the married men’s quarters for a Navy Radio Direction Finding (RDF) station that located U-boats during World War II. The Navy operated a wireless telegraph and radio station adjacent to the lighthouse from 1905 until World War II, when it was converted into an RDF station. Most of the Navy structures were demolished to make room for modern housing for the lighthouse keepers and Coast Guard personnel that operated a LORAN station several miles to the north. A Weather Bureau Station and an Air Force tracking station that monitored missile test from Cape Canaveral were also located on the lighthouse reservation at one time
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse underwent an $850,000 restoration in 1999-2000, which made this oldest of structures in Palm Beach County look just about as good as new. In May 2008, the lighthouse and surrounding land was designated a federal Outstanding Natural Area. While the recognition was appreciated, money for improvements was what was really needed. As part of the federal stimulus program designed to jump start the economy, $1.1 million was set aside for the natural area in 2009. These funds were divided almost equally between maintenance of the lighthouse and habitat restoration. The interior of the tower was painted, and the adjacent oil house was completely refurbished. Walking trails, wooden overlooks, and informational signs were also added to the property.