|St. Joseph Point, FL|
Description: From the southernmost point of land along Florida’s Panhandle, Cape San Blas extends like an arm three miles west and then fifteen miles north, forming the oblong St. Joseph Bay. The bay was known to be one of the best harbors along Florida’s Gulf Coast, and in 1836 the town of St. Joseph was established on its shore. With no river feeding the bay, it was difficult for the port at St. Joseph to flourish commercially as no economical way of transporting the timber and cotton from outlying areas to the bay existed. To overcome this problem, two railroads were extended east from the city to connect with the Appalachicola River. Soon thereafter, the town of St. Joseph started to prosper.
The lighthouse wasn’t the only new arrival to St. Joseph in 1838. The Territory of Florida also held its Constitutional Convention there that year to lay the groundwork for its bid at statehood. St. Joseph received much publicity during the month the delegates were in town. Things were looking up for the city. Then, in 1841, a ship arrived in port and introduced yellow fever into the community. In just a matter of weeks, the population of the town was decimated. Two years later, a hurricane, accompanied by a high tidal surge, managed to destroy what remained of the city. Ironically, the city of St. Joseph didn’t survive to see Florida become the 27th state in 1845.
Permission was requested in 1842 to discontinue the St. Joseph Bay Lighthouse “in consequence of the abandonment of the Town of St. Joseph as a place of trade.” The tower however remained active until 1847, when a lighthouse was built at Cape San Blas’ elbow. Keeper Andrews, the light’s one and only keeper, extinguished the light for the last time, and the lantern room and other material were removed to the new lighthouse further south. Andrews might have had a lonely life on the tip of the cape, but his isolation did have one advantage - he didn't contract yellow fever.
For over fifty years, St. Joseph was known as the “City of the Dead,” but people started to return to the area around the turn of the century. Eventually, the city of Port St. Joe would be established roughly two miles north of the site of St. Joseph. With renewed activity in the bay, it was felt that another lighthouse to mark its entrance was merited.
Charles Lupton with his wife Minnie lived at the station for twenty-six years. Life was not always pleasant or easy. The Luptons had to hire a teacher to live at the station for a few months during the winter to school their children. When supplies were needed to supplement the family garden, they occasionally had to travel over fourteen miles west to the nearest community of Farmdale. By far the worst hardship for the Luptons was the loss of two of their children while they were stationed at the lighthouse.
In 1960, the lighthouse was replaced by a light on a 78-foot iron tower, and the old dwelling was sold into private hands for $300. While the structure was being moved to a farm three miles inland along Overstreet Highway, the lantern room was dropped and destroyed. At its new home, the lighthouse was used first as a dwelling, and then later relegated to serve as a barn. In 1979, nineteen-year-old Danny Raffield purchased the lighthouse and transported it roughly twenty miles south to its new home on St. Joseph Bay. By then, the structure had become known as the traveling lighthouse.
Raffield traveled to other lighthouses and conducted research in Washington, D.C. to assist in his quest to restore his lighthouse and fabricate an authentic lantern room for it. A huge break came when Raffield was put in touch with a Coast Guard officer in New Orleans who had the original blueprints for the St. Joseph Point Light Station, including the lantern room.
After several years of meticulous restoration, the Raffields were able to move into the lighthouse. They enclosed the bottom floor, converting it into a kitchen and living room. A massive spiral iron staircase replaced a wooden set of stairs and forms the spine of the dwelling, connecting all three levels. The Raffields had craftsmen replicate the original lantern room at Raffield Fisheries, and it was finally placed atop the lighthouse on April 14, 2011, capping a restoration effort that spanned forty-three years. "Today is just the icing on the cake. To be able to sit in it means that my dad is happy and for me that's the best part of this day," said the Raffield’s daughter on the day the lantern room was put in place.
Along with the lighthouse, other reminders of the history of St. Joseph still exist. In 1922, a marble monument engraved with the names of the delegates of the Constitutional Convention was erected on a 13.5 acre site on Monument Avenue in Port St. Joe. A museum was later added to the site and opened to the public in 1955.
Located at 2071 County Road 30 in Simmons Bayou. The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling closed.
The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Drew Green, used by permission.