The tower was prefabricated in the north and then shipped to the island, arriving in June 1887. It took just three months to assemble the cast-iron structure, and Keeper James Gardner lit the light for the first time on September 15. The tower’s lantern room is supported by a central cylinder, which houses a spiral staircase, and four supporting columns, which slope outward to form a square, pyramidal structure. Four levels of horizontal braces connect the central cylinder to the supporting columns.
A revolving third-order Fresnel lens was originally used in the tower to produce four, grouped white flashes every thirty seconds, displayed at a focal plane of 101 feet. In 1899, the signature was changed to one red flash every thirty seconds.
Bids for building the station’s two keeper’s dwellings were considered excessive, so the structures were built using hired labor. The dwellings were painted white, with green shutters, while the iron tower was brown, with a black lantern room. Each dwelling was roughly square, was covered in clapboard siding, and had a chimney protruding through the center of a double hipped roof. The dwellings were elevated about eight feet on piers to protect them from flooding, and the roofs had an exaggerated overhang to protect the inhabitants from the sun.
A round wooden cistern, also elevated on piers, was attached to the gutter and down spout system of each dwelling to provide water to the station. From the southern end of the island, a wharf extended 209 feet into the gulf. A boathouse, with rails leading to the water, was constructed onshore, adjacent to the wharf. The wharf, tower, dwellings, privies, and oil house were all connected by a network of brick walkways. A white fence, 400 feet long, five feet high, and fitted with four gates, encircled the station.
|Oct. 6, 1889||Baby was taken very sick at 5 p.m.|
|Oct. 7, 1889||Baby boy dies this morning at 2:30 o’clock. Keeper and wife went over to bury him today.|
|Aug. 30, 1890||Baby born. Keeper’s wife. Bad weather.|
Life at the lighthouse was tightly connected with life on the mainland at Tarpon Springs. The keepers frequently visited town to pick up supplies, retrieve mail, and attend church. Visitors to the island were not infrequent either, as town folks took advantage of the island’s pristine beaches. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, John K. Cheyney started a commercial sponge venture in Tarpon Springs called the Anclote and Rock Island Sponge Company. John M. Cocoris, a native of Greece, was hired by Cheyney for his skill at harvesting and processing sponges. Cocoris sent for his brothers and an experienced diving crew from his homeland, and it wasn’t long before Tarpon Springs was known as the sponge capital of the world. The Greek influence in Tarpon Springs is still clearly visible today.
Thomas A. Moody served as head keeper of Anclote Key Lighthouse from 1914 to 1923. Besides minding the light and maintaining the station, Keeper Moody kept an active eye on activity in the surrounding waters. In 1919, the Lighthouse Service recognized him for the following accomplishments: rescuing two men from a capsized sloop, towing a disable sponge-divers’ boat to safety with two men aboard who were without food and water, and towing to safe anchorage a schooner that was lying six miles offshore in a disabled condition.
Anclote Key Lighthouse was automated by the Coast Guard in 1952, and then discontinued in 1984. A tall smokestack in Tarpon Springs equipped with strobe lights would serve as a night light for boaters. Abandoned, the station soon started to deteriorate. The keeper’s dwellings were burned, all the glass in the tower was shot or knocked out, and the tower was soon marred with “spray-painted declarations of love and teenage glory.” The skeletal tower eventually became part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, and a grassroots restoration effort was launched to save the abused tower.
Thanks to efforts by the Gulf Islands Alliance Citizen Support Organization, Tampa Bay Harbour Lights Club, and the Tarpon Springs Historical Society, a Re-Light the Light Committee was formed and over a million dollars was secured to restore the lighthouse property. In January 2003, International Chimney Corporation began an eight-month restoration project on the oil house and tower, which culminated in a relighting ceremony on September 13. Here are three pictures showing the tower before restoration: 1 2 3. On November 15, 2004, the modern beacon that was being used in the lantern room was replaced with an accurate replica of a fourth-order Fresnel lens crafted by Artworks Florida. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team St. Petersburg assisted with the lens installation.
A dwelling has been constructed just north of the lighthouse to house a state park ranger who will help protect the restored tower from any future acts of vandalism. After fifty years without a keeper and twenty years without a light, Anclote Key Lighthouse is back in service, and, as before, dwellers of the mainland are welcome to come out to the island to enjoy its beaches and visit its tower.