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 Cape Canaveral, FL    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.
Description: Cape Canaveral Lighthouse witnessed the launch of the cape’s first rocket, Bumper 8, on July 24, 1950, and has had a front-row seat for subsequent launches associated with the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs. Rockets still roar into space near the lighthouse (such as the 1972 launch of an Atlas-Centaur rocket shown at left), and just up the coast are the space shuttle launch pads. The lighthouse, however, has been more than just a bystander in the conquest of space. It is said that Wernher von Braun used to stand on the railed gallery outside the lantern room to observe the early launches from Complex 4.

Original Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and its replacement
Photograph courtesy State Archives of Florida
In silhouette, the lighthouse even resembles a rocket, and as crowds have gathered to watch a distant launch, more than one spectator has mistaken the lighthouse for a rocket. This resemblance was taken to the extreme in a short film entitled The Lighthouse That Never Fails. In the movie, an Air Force sergeant is shown laboriously climbing the lighthouse’s staircase. Just as he reaches the top to enjoy the view, a burst of flame erupts from the base of the tower. The next frames are a distant shot of the lighthouse taking flight. This effect was achieved by superimposing an image of the lighthouse on footage of an actual launch, and surprisingly, it is quite realistic.

The present Cape Canaveral lighthouse was not the first built on the cape. The original was a sixty-five-foot brick tower, activated in 1848, after Congress appropriated $12,000 for its construction on March 3, 1847. The tower's flashing light was produced by a set of fifteen lamps backed by twenty-one-inch reflectors set in a revolving chandelier. Nathanial Scobie was the light’s first keeper, but he soon abandoned his position due to the threat of a Seminole Indian attack.

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse was built, in part, to warn mariners of shoals that extended for twelve miles off the cape. It was less than adequate at this as one captain remarked that “the lights on Hatteras, Lookout, Canaveral and Cape Florida, if not improved, had better be dispensed with, as the navigator is apt to run ashore looking for them.” The captain’s opinion was confirmed in an 1857 report by the Lighthouse Board that stated: “No navigator who is aware of the existence of these dangerous shoals would be justified in running his vessel boldly for this light, especially in bad weather, unless his vessel is of very light draft."

The Board recommended a first class tower, with a height of at least 150 feet, be built to mark the coast and estimated its construction would cost $68,751. Congress allocated this amount on March 3, 1859, but construction of the lighthouse had to be suspended at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Mills Burnham was the keeper of the light during this period. Following orders, he removed the lighting apparatus, crated it up, and then buried it in his orange grove to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Yankees. When extinguished, Cape Canaveral Lighthouse was the last major lighthouse in the United States still using the antiquated lighting system of lamps and reflectors.

After the war, a fixed light was re-exhibited from the old tower on June 1, 1867, and work resumed on the replacement lighthouse that summer. This unique tower was composed of metal plates with a brick lining and was erected not far from the original lighthouse. The first three levels of the new tower were designed as living quarters and consisted of a kitchen, living room, and bedrooms. An exterior staircase at the base of the tower allowed a keeper to access the top of the tower without having to go through the living area. On May 10, 1868, the first-order Fresnel lens, which filled the lantern room atop the 134-foot tower, was lit for the first time, and the temporary fourth-order lens used in the old tower was discontinued. The new light flashed once every sixty seconds and had a focal plane of 139 feet. The increased price for material and labor following the war raised the total cost for the lighthouse to $132,391.

Keeper Burnham and his wife Mary raised five daughters and at least one son at the remote lighthouse. Since the dating pool on the cape was quite small, it comes as no surprise that some of the daughters of the keepers ended up marrying the bachelor keepers. Burnham’s oldest daughter, Frances, married Keeper Henry Wilson. The Wilson’s daughter, Gertrude, married Keeper Clinton P. Honeywell, who served at the lighthouse from 1891 to 1930. It is from the Honeywell’s daughter Florence, great-great-granddaughter of Keeper Burnham, that we gain further insights into life at the remote station. Florence and her brother and sister were baptized in their kitchen sink by a circuit minister who would stop by the lighthouse to conduct religious services once a month. The three Honeywell children received their initial education from a live-in teacher. The graves of Mills and Mary Burnham are located near the lighthouse.

Second Cape Canaveral Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy State Archives of Florida
Originally painted white, Cape Canaveral Lighthouse didn’t receive its distinctive black bands until 1873. Living inside the metal tower during the hot and humid summer months was like living in an oven, and the assistant keepers soon abandoned the tower’s living area in favor of their own makeshift huts outside the tower. On March 3, 1877, Congress provided $4,000 for the construction of a new dwelling for the head keeper, and the assistants were given the head keeper's old residence until a new one was built for them in 1883.

In 1885, the sea encroached 129 feet toward the lighthouse, leaving just 192 feet between it and the ocean. Wooden revetment was built along the beach in 1886, with a wooden jetty at right angles to it, and when this proved successful, the work was made more permanent in 1888. The woodwork, however, soon showed signs of decay, and in 1890 Congress appropriation $80,000 for relocating the station. The two towers had stood side-by-side for over two decades, when the decision was made to relocate the metal tower farther inland.

A temporary fourth-order light, flashing white every ten seconds, was established on October 23, 1893, and during the following months, the iron tower was dismantled and transported, along with the keeper's dwellings, just over a mile inland using a rail cart pulled by mules. The light was relit at its new location on July 25, 1894, and a new brick oil house was built beside it. The original brick lighthouse was blown up and used as fill material at the new site. The place where the two lighthouses stood was never lost to the sea and is still readily identifiable about 400 feet from the ocean.

Keeper Clinton P. Honeywell was repeatedly recognized by the Lighthouse Service for rendering aid to distressed people. The following are just a few examples of his service. In 1913, he brought six survivors of the yacht Huntress to the station. In 1920, Keeper Honeywell assisted in beaching a disabled hydroplane and supplied food and shelter to its two occupants. In 1921, he rendered assistance to and furnished shelter for the captain and seventeen crewmembers of the lumber-laden British steamship Albert Soper, which wrecked five miles from the station.

A radiobeacon was established at the station in 1930, and the following October the lighthouse was electrified, increasing its candlepower by 150,000 to 430,000. The characteristic of the light at this time was a flash every fifteen seconds, produced by revolving the eight-sided lens once every two minutes.

On May 11, 1949, President Trumam signed legislation establishing the Joint Long Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral, and the cape’s few residents soon had a very noisy neighbor. Two small communities had grown up near the lighthouse: Stinkmore to the south and DeSoto Beach to the north. During rocket launches, which commenced in 1950, the local residents were evacuated and put up in the Brevard Hotel in Cocoa. It wasn’t long, however, before the government grew weary of footing the bills for these free vacations, and soon both towns were booted off the cape. Being government employees, the lighthouse keepers were allowed to remain.

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse was automated in 1967, and later that year its keeper’s dwellings were demolished. In 1993, the first-order Fresnel lens was removed from the tower. The strong vibrations, which accompanied the frequent launches, were starting to shake the lens to pieces - several prisms had actually fallen out of the supporting brass framework. The priceless lens was restored in 1995 and placed on display at the Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit Building at Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse.

A thorough restoration of the lighthouse was conducted by the Coast Guard starting in late 1995. A canvas shroud was placed over a network of nylon lines strung from the lighthouse to protect the surrounding area while the lead-based paint was sand-blasted from the tower. The nylon lines can be seen encircling the lighthouse in the bottom picture at left. The photograph, taken on October 20th, 1995, shows the Space Shuttle Columbia soaring into space. As part of the restoration, a new lantern room was placed atop the lighthouse and the original was placed on display at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum.

The lighthouse became property of the U.S. Air Force in December 2000. The oil house, which lost its roof in a violent windstorm in the 1970s, was restored in 2003. The reinstallation of the lantern room in February of 2007, capped off a nearly million-dollar, year-long renovation of the lighthouse, and the beacon in the lantern room was relit on Sunday, 29 April 2007. The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation has been formed to support the lighthouse and holds at least one public event on the grounds each year. During restoration of the tower, soil samples taken near the lighthouse were found to contain high levels of lead. For a time, visitors were required to remain at least fifty yards away from the lighthouse, but this restriction has since been lifted.

Head Keepers: Nathaniel C. Scobie (1848 – 1850), Ora Carpenter (1850 – 1853), Mills O. Burnham (1853 – 1886), George M. Quarterman (1886 – 1887), James M. Knight (1887 – 1893), John L. Stuck (1893 – 1904), Clinton P. Honeywell (1904 – 1930), Oscar F. Qaurterman (1930 – 1939), T.L. Willis (1939 – 1941).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Lighthouse Service Bulletin, various years.
  4. Florida Lighthouses, Kevin McCarthy, 1993.

Location: Located on the grounds of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center.
Latitude: 28.46036
Longitude: -80.54341

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


Travel Instructions: Access to the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is restricted. We took a "Cape Canaveral: Then and Now" tour offered by the Kennedy Space Center, which passed by the lighthouse. You should call and confirm that the lighthouse will be included on the tour.

As of June 2013, the following tours of the lighthouse have been suspended due to spending cuts: The 45th Space Wing Public Affairs Office offers a free bus tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This three-hour tour includes a visit to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, as well as active and retired launch pads and the lighthouse. Tours begin at 8:45 a.m. at the South Gate of Cape Canaveral AFS. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (321) 494-5945 or 494-5949 or 494-5933.

The lighthouse is owned by the Air Force. Grounds and the first four levels of the tower are open open during tours.

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