|Crooked River, FL|
Description: Before the advent of the railroad in the South, rivers were the lifeblood of commerce. Before the Civil War, rivers primarily transported cotton from inland plantations to ships docked at ports along the Gulf Coast. In 1860, roughly 75 percent of the revenue of the nation’s treasury was based on cotton. The Crooked River was a waterway of some import, and, true to its name, winds between the Carrabelle River to the west and the Ochlockonee River on the east forming the substantial Saint James Island. A small port was established near the mouth of the Carrabelle River to participate in the cotton trade.
A lighthouse was needed to assist maritime traffic in the area. The Crooked River Lighthouse was actually the second to fill this role. The first to do so was located on Dog Island, a barrier island found just offshore from where the Crooked River merges into the Carrabelle River and then into St. George Sound. Middle pass leads to St. George Sound from the Gulf and is defined by St. George Island to the west and Dog Island to the east. In 1838, the western end of Dog Island became home to one of the many lighthouses built by Winslow Lewis during this time period. The fifty-foot, brick tower was built directly on the sand and was first lit on March 1, 1839. In 1842, just three years later, a hurricane caused the bottom portion of the tower to cave in, and a replacement tower made of wood was hurriedly erected to take its place.
This second Dog Island Lighthouse also had a short lifespan. A hurricane in 1851 flattened it and about everything else on the island. The third lighthouse built on the island was another brick tower, which rose to a height of forty feet. This lighthouse survived the Civil War, but received significant damage at the hands of the occupying Union soldiers. Given the downfall of its predecessors, it comes as no surprise that in 1873 this third tower also fell victim to a hurricane. Money was appropriated for yet another lighthouse on Dog Island, but due to the slow recovery of the Southern economy following the war, it was never built.
The 103-foot iron tower, flanked by a keeper’s dwelling on either side, was completed in August of 1895. The first keeper, James Williams, lit the light for the first time on October 28, 1895 and logged "Everything worked well, weather was clear and fine, Keeper stood watch to 12 p.m. Light was good throughout the watch. Commander Newman came to see how it worked at 8 p.m." The illuminating apparatus was a fourth-order bivalve lens, manufactured in 1894 by the Parisian firm of Henry LaPaute. The lens revolved on a pool of mercury and produced two white flashes every ten seconds. In 1901, the revolving mechanism for the lens was repaired and adjusted to run for 16 hours between windings. The tower was apparently painted red originally, but in 1902, the bottom half of the tower was given a coat of white paint to offset it from the surrounding pine forest.
The light was electrified in 1933, and then automated in 1952. As the tower no longer required daily attention, the keeper’s dwellings were sold at auction in 1964. One of the dwellings subsequently burned, but the other is still used nearby as a residence. The bivalve lens remained in use until 1976, when it was removed due to mercury leakage. The lens is now located at the U.S. Coast Guard 8th District Offices in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Crooked River Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1995, and stood neglected for just a few years, until ownership of the tower was transferred to the city of Carrabelle. The lighthouse has since been leased to the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association, which immediately started to raise funds to restore the tower and open it to the public.
The Carrabelle Lighthouse Association received a $298,900 Florida Communities Trust Restoration Grant in 2006 and an additional $400,000 from the state in 2007 to restore the Crooked River Lighthouse and purchase two acres of surrounding land to create a public park. At dusk on December 8, 2007, over 240 people watched as the refurbished tower was reactivated with a new lens that produces the flash sequence of the original Fresnel lens. In April of 2009, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to officially open the Crooked River Lighthouse Keeper's House Museum, which is housed in a replica of the keeper's dwelling built adjacent to the lighthouse.
In April 2012, an historic piece of Crooked River Lightstation returned home. Joan Matey, the curator of the Keeper's House Museum, was chatting with a local realtor one day when she learned that one of the station’s old outbuildings was on a property about three miles west of the lighthouse. The 1893 plans for the station identified this 10’ x 15’ x 16’ structure as a wash house. After many phone calls, the property owner was reached in Michigan, and an agreement was made to swap the historic shed for a new one, allowing Ducky Johnson House Moving Company to relocate the wash house from its current home of forty-nine years to what had been its original home for sixty-eight years.
This area of the Florida coast is described as the Red Neck Riviera and the Forgotten Coast. With some luck, the region will remain forgotten by developers, but the Crooked River Lighthouse will continue to be cared for so it can be remembered by future generations.
Located just over one mile west of Carrabelle Beach alongside Highway 98.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Dana Whaley, Tom Gurley, used by permission.