Home Maps Resources Calendar About
Resources Calendar About
Rebecca Shoal, FL  Lighthouse destroyed.   

Select a photograph to view a photo gallery

Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

See our full List of Lighthouses in Florida

Rebecca Shoal Lighthouse

1852 – Appropriated by act of Congress for a beacon on Rebecca Shoal, between Marquesas & Dry Tortugas Key, Fla., August 31, 1852, $10,000.

1853 – Lieutenant Meade has prepared and submitted, or has in course of preparation to be submitted in a short time, reports, plans, and estimates for the following works authorized for this district, viz: For the first-class light on the Florida reef, at the point known as Coffin's patches; for a pile foundation light-house for the northwest passage, near Key West; for a light-house to be constructed on Sea-horse, one of the Cedar keys; and for a beacon on Rebecca shoal, to mark the channel between the Tortugas islands and the keys on the coast of Florida. These works, it is believed, will all be commenced during the present season, and prosecuted with every means compatible with true economy.

1853 – PHILADELPHIA, October 31, 1853.

GENTLEMEN: In compliance with the circular issued by your honorable board, dated September 22, 1853, I have the honor to submit the following report, showing "the progress made upon, and the condition of all works belonging to the United States light-house department, up to the present date," under my charge:

Beacon on the Rebecca shoal.—An examination of this shoal was made in May last, and on the 28th instant I transmitted, through the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, a report of the same, and submitted a project for a beacon, accompanied by designs and estimates.

GEO. G. MEADE, Lieutenant Topographical Engineers.
Lieut. T. A. JENKINS, U. S. N., Capt. E. L. F. HARDCASTLE, U. S. A.,
Secretaries of Lighthouse Board, Washington, D. C.

1854 – Under construction; additional appropriation recommended.

1854 – Beacon on the Rebecca shoal – The plans and estimates for this work were, with a report, after an examination of the shoal, submitted to the board, and received its sanction on the 10th January, 1854. The work was manufactured, framed, and put together at this place, and shipped early in May to Key West. The erection of the beacon was, however, postponed in consequence of a failure to procure mangrove piles for the platform, and also to await the additional appropriation which the estimate called for; it being deemed unadvisable to attempt the erection with inadequate means. The materials were, in consequence, stored at Key West. Congress having, at its recent session, granted the additional appropriation asked for, no time will be lost in putting up the work, so soon as the season of operations arrives, which will be in April, when the northers of the winter have ceased.

1854 – For completing the beacon on Rebecca Shoals, Aug. 3, 1854, $5,000.

1855 – Beacon on the Rebecca shoal —The materials for this, like the Northwest Channel light-house, were carried out to Key West during the summer of 1854, with the view of its immediate erection; but in consequence of the epidemic, it was also postponed to another season. The season for operations in this locality is in the latter part of May, months of June and July, the periods when calms are most likely to prevail in this latitude.

The working party were on the ground during the last week in April, supplied with everything necessary for the construction of a platform and the subsequent erection of the beacon. In the preliminary examination made of this shoal, it was believed to be of a coral formation, as the coral heads or boulders could be distinctly seen, with sand in the spaces between them. As the operation of driving piles for the platform is one requiring a great deal of time, and the saving of time was of the utmost importance, it was determined to build the platform on trestles similar to those so successfully used at the Romer shoals, New York harbor, Pungoteague light-house, Chesapeake, and by this same party at the Northwest Channel, Key West. Favored by good weather, the work was commenced, and by the 17th of May, or after three weeks' labor, the platform was nearly completed, when the occurrence of a violent gale compelled the vessel to take refuge in the harbor of Tortugas. On their return, three days afterwards, no trace of the previous labor was visible; the sea had carried all away. A delay was now created by the necessity of procuring additional materials, which as soon as obtained, the superintendent renewed his efforts to gain a foot-hold on the shoal. This was partially effected by the middle of June, when another platform was lost by the unequal settling of the trestles, caused by the heavy sea rocking them, and forcing them to work in the sand. By this time the superintendent became convinced that it was impossible to erect a platform upon trestles, as the shoal proved to be more of a sand formation than was originally supposed, and that the only effectual plan, if practicable, was to drive piles into the shoal, and place an open platform on them. For this purpose, the pile-driver was set up on the deck of the vessel and a calm day awaited, when an attempt would be made, by anchoring the vessel on the shoal, to drive a sufficient number of piles to place the pile-driver on them and continue the platform. For three weeks the party remained in the vicinity of the shoal, either lying off and on, or anchored, but not a day presented itself that justified an attempt.

By this time more than two months had been consumed in ineffectual efforts. The working party, organized in Philadelphia in October previous, had entered into engagements to serve eight months; this time was drawing to a close, and all offers to induce them to remain were rejected. Under these circumstances, as it was impossible to procure the services of others at Key West, the superintendent was compelled to return to this place, where, having discharged one party and organized another, the vessel proceeded again to the shoal. This party arrived early in August, and remained at the shoal until the middle of September, nearly six weeks, but, I regret to report, without an opportunity of even making the attempt to effect a lodgment. The season having passed, and the appropriation being exhausted, the work was necessarily abandoned. In reporting this failure, which no one can regret more than myself, I feel it proper to observe, 1st, that this result was not unlooked for; indeed, in my special report, submitting a design, it was distinctly alluded to as extremely probable. I believed then, and am satisfied now, that no light-house structure of any kind has been erected, either in this country or in Europe, at a position more exposed and offering greater obstacles than the Rebecca shoal. 2d. Notwithstanding the want of success attending the attempt here reported, I feel confident that everything was done that existing circumstances permitted, and the failure is to be attributed entirely to the unfavorable character of the season.

Under the conviction, therefore, that a more propitious season, with the experience now acquired, may render success attainable, I feel justified in asking for additional means to renew these efforts, and have inserted an item in the general estimates for the seventh district amounting to $10,000.

It was my desire and intention to be present and give my personal superintendence to this particular work, as the obstacles to be overcome were always fully appreciated by me. But you are aware, that on the eve of my departure, instructions from the board, imposing additional duties on me, not only prevented my departure, but retained me at this place during the whole period of the work. I do no more than justice, however, to the superintendent in immediate charge, Mr. J. W. James, when I express the conviction that the energy and devotion with which he left no effort unspared to insure success, could not be surpassed.

My thanks are also due to Captain H. G. Wright, corps of engineers, in charge of the fortifications at Tortugas, who most courteously rendered all the assistance in his power, not only by supplying such materials as contingencies called for, and without which we should have been greatly embarrassed, but particularly in giving the superintendent the benefit of his advice and judgment, which his local knowledge and professional acquirements rendered of the greatest value and importance.

1855 – For continuing the efforts to erect a beacon on the Rebecca shoal, near the Dry Tortugas, in addition to the appropriation of August 3, 1854, the sum of ten thousand dollars, ($10,000.)

1857 – The iron screw-pile beacon on Rebecca shoal will, it is expected, be completed this season.

1858 – The iron screw-pile beacon on Rebecca shoal will probably be completed during the coming winter.

1876 – Rebecca Shoal.—Designs have been completed for a new iron pile-beacon 75 feet high. It has not been possible to complete the work, but it will probably be erected during the ensuing year.

1877 — Rebecca Shoal, Florida Reefs, Florida.—A light upon this dangerous shoal is much needed for the safety of the large commerce constantly passing in its vicinity. An estimate of $75,000 for commencing its construction is respectfully submitted.

1883 – The Board has renewed the estimate in its annual report of 1877 for a light on Rebecca Shoal, Florida, to illuminate the dark space between Sand Key and Dry Tortugas lights, on the Florida Reefs. The establishment of this light will complete the plan for the proper lighting of these reefs, which was formulated by the preliminary commission of 1851, and which has been kept steadily in view by the Light-House Board. Its importance is shown by the number of wrecks which have taken place in this unlighted space, and by the large number of vessels constantly passing in this vicinity. The district engineer estimates that a proper structure superimposed upon the 12-inch wrought-iron piles now upholding Rebecca Shoal day-beacon, with perhaps other piles added, will cost but $20,000; this, however, is doubted by some members of the Board, but $20,000 is all that is asked for expenditure on this work during the coming year.

1885 — Rebecca Shoal, on Rebecca Shoals, Florida.—This beacon is to be enlarged and converted into a light-house, and contracts for the iron work for the structure have been made. It is probable that the new work will be finished before July, 1886.

1886 — Rebecca Shoal, Florida.—The iron-work for this station was delivered and stored in the light-house yard at Key West, Fla., in August last. The superstructure was framed and stored at the same place. All material was purchased and was delivered at Key West. Work was commenced in May and the old beacon taken down. A working platform was built and the iron foundation put in position. The superstructure is being built as rapidly as possible. There was much delay in getting the foundation in, on account of the exposed position and continuation of rough seas and bad weather; there was also much difficulty in putting in place the iron disks, as the bottom of the sea at this point is covered with large rocks, which have to be moved by a diver.

1887 – Rebecca Shoal, on Rebecca Shoal, Florida.—This station, commenced in May, 1886, was completed and the light exhibited on November 1, 1886. Owing to the exposed position and the unusual number of severe gales during the summer of 1886, the work was delayed.

1888 – Rebecca Shoal, on Rebecca Shoal, Florida.—A new iron landing plate was put on in place of the broken one. Two iron winches were set for davits of the large boat, and various minor repairs were made.

1889 – Rebecca Shoal, Florida.—Two new iron ladders were put up to take the place of the ones put up according to the original plan of the structure. These ladders are much shorter and lighter, and when not in use are raised out of reach of the waves, thereby preventing the vibration to the illuminating apparatus formerly caused by the large ladders. Slight repairs to the illuminating apparatus were made in the lampshop.

1892 – Rebecca Shoal, Gulf of Mexico, Florida.—The positions for the proposed red sectors were laid out, and various repairs were made.

1893 – Rebecca Shoal, Florida Reefs, Gulf of Mexico, Florida.—The characteristic of this light was changed on April 30,1893, from flashing alternately red and white throughout the entire horizon, to flashing red and white, excepting from WSW. 1/4 W. southward to NW. by W.1/2 W., in which sector every flash is red. The interval between flashes remains unchanged.

1899 – Rebecca Shoal, in 12 feet of water on the southeast edge of Rebecca Shoal, Florida.—The iron work was scaled, scraped, and painted two coats. The iron gallery railing of dwelling, 180 feet long, was thoroughly repaired, scraped, and painted two coats. Various repairs were made.

1912 – Keeper Thomas M. Kelly awarded efficiency pennant for 1912.

1914 – Oil house completed Feb 13, 1914.. Rebecca Shoal, Fla 193. 88 Steel tanks suspended in framework of tower.

1915 - Thomas M. Kelly, keeper, Joseph P. Roberts, jr., first assistant, and Thomas L. Kelly, Jr. second assistant, assisted steamers ashore near station - Steamers Nordvahlen and Veenbergen. Happened June 22, 1914.

1916 – Keeper Thomas M. Kelly awarded lighthouse efficiency pennant for 1916.

1920 – The act of March 6, 1920, appropriated $125,000 for rebuilding, repairing, and reestablishing such aids to navigation and structures connected therewith as were damaged or destroyed in the seventh and eighth lighthouse districts by the hurricane of September, 1919. Of this amount $55,600 was allotted to the seventh district. During the fiscal year the following work was done payable from this appropriation: Rebecca Shoal Light Station: Material for repairing roof purchased during the year. Dry Tortugas Light Station: Material for repairing roof purchased during the year. Buoys and buoy appendages have been ordered.

1926 - The foundation tension rods at Rebecca Shoal Light were replaced, completing this project. Total expense, $49,971.78.

1925 – On August 1, 1925, an automatic unattended flashing acetylene gas light was installed at Rebeccas Shoal Lighthouse, Fla., seventh district, in place of the attended oil light. The equipment consists of triple flasher with three three-fourths cubic feet burners in a fourth-order fixed lens. The characteristic of the new light is a group of 3 flashes every 15 seconds, duration of each flash 1 second, candlepower 1,400. The old light was a fourth-order oil lamp in a fourth-order revolving flash panel lens, giving a group of 3 flashes every 15 seconds, duration of each flash eight-tenths second, candlepower 1,000. The new light is therefore of greater candlepower and the flashes of longer duration. The keepers of Dry Tortugas Lighthouse, nearly 19 miles distant, saw the old light only on exceptionally clear nights; they now see the new light every night, except during thick weather.

Rebecca Shoal Light is important, as many vessels use this channel in passing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Straits. It is located on a submarine site 43 miles west of Key West, the nearest inhabited land, with the exception of Dry Tortugas Lighthouse. The nearest uninhabited land is East Key of the Tortugas group, 13 miles to the westward. The new light has now been in satisfactory operation for over a year. The cost of changing this light form oil to acetylene was $1,175, and the annual saving effected is $3,570.

During the hurricane of 1919 every pane of glass in this lantern was destroyed. Therefore, wire glass has been set in the lantern and wire netting placed around the lantern platform to prevent flying articles from breaking the glass during a storm.

1931 – The Florida reefs were formerly a very serious menace to shipping, but as aids to navigation have been established thereon the number of wrecks has decreased. In the early days no occupation in south Florida was more profitable than that of wrecking. In the one year, 1824, $293,353 worth of property which was wrecked on the reefs was sold at Key West. The establishment of lighthouses and other aids to navigation on the reefs has had a definite effect upon the number of wrecks, and the system of flashing characteristics adopted in recent years has proven a valuable addition to the protection afforded. For the past six years there has not been a salvage case in the district court.

As a result of a study made with a view to improving the characteristics of the lights, there was worked out the numerical system of flashing characteristics which is now in use. By means of these flashes the mariner may definitely fix the location of any light observed on the Florida reefs, avoiding the possibility of confusing one light for another.

When the numerical flashing characteristics were worked out it was contemplated that a light would be established in the vicinity of the present Miami Lighted Whistle Buoy, and that this aid would become the first in the numerically distinguished series. As this was not done, Hillsboro Inlet then in the seventh district, became a No. 1 in the system. Hillsboro shows a single white flash every 10 seconds, produced by a revolving bivalve lens.

Fowey Rocks Light Station is the second in the reefs system, and shows a group of two flashes every 10 seconds. The characteristic here is produced with a fixed lens and metal screens revolving within the lens.

Carysfort Reef Light Station flashed “three” in this system. A first-order lens, originally with 16 flash panels, was modified by replacing every fourth flash panel with a metal screen, so that three flashes are produced every 20 seconds.

Alligator Reef Light Station is the fourth in the series, and shows a group of four white flashes every 15 seconds. The lens, originally having 24 flash panels, was modified by replacing every fifth and sixth flash panel with metal screens.

Sombrero Key Light Station is the fifth in the system, showing a group of five white flashes every 15 seconds. The illuminating apparatus consists of a fixed lens, within which are revolving metal screens.

It was considered that more than five flashes would be difficult to count during storms, so a second series was begun with American Shoal Light Station. This station sends out one white flash every five seconds. There is little danger of its being confused with Hillsboro, No.1 in the first series, because of the distance separating the stations and the fact that the period of the eclipse differs considerably. The illuminating apparatus at American Shoal consists of a 254 panel lens.

Sand Key Light Station, next below American Shoal, is provided with a group of two flashes every 10 seconds. These are produced by a fixed lens with an acetylene gas double flasher.

Rebecca Shoal Light Station is the third in this second series, sending out three white flashes every 15 seconds. Flashes are produced with a fixed lens and an acetylene gas triple flasher.

Consideration was given to the possibility of making Dry Tortugas the fourth station in this series, but the illuminating apparatus in use had proven so satisfactory that no change was made. Dry Tortugas therefore shows a white flash every 20 seconds.

1953 – Wooden superstructure removed and a square, skeletal tower installed in its place atop the screwpile foundation.

The Coast Guard now notes in its light list that the “structure is unstable and considered unsafe” so no light is exhibited.


  • Head: Mark Gaze (1886 – 1888), James Gardner (1888 – 1889), Francis McNulty (1889 – 1890), Robert J. Fine (1890 – 1893), John Watkins (1893 – 1895), William R. Cook (1895 – 1897), Charles H. Gardner (1897 – 1900), James R. Walker (1900 – 1902), Alfred A. Berghell (1902 – 1905), Arthur C.E. Hamblett (1905 – 1907), John Peterson (1907 – 1908), Arthur C.E. Hamblett (1908 – 1910), Thomas M. Kelly (1910 – 1917), Clifton H. Lopez (1917), William H. Pierce (1917 – 1919), Richard C. Roberts (1919), Thomas L. Kelly (1919 – ), Robert V. Hall (at least 1921), Alonzo Baker ( – 1925).
  • First Assistant: Francis McNulty (1886 – 1889), John F. Lowe (1889), George E. Richardson (1890), Bagley F. Filer (1890), Robert J. Fine (1890), William R. Cook (1890 – 1891), Octavius L. Bethel (1891), George B. Parks (1891 – 1892), Henry Brown (1892 – 1893), William R. Cook (1893 – 1895), George H. Rabagny (1895 – 1899), Alfred A. Berghell (1899 – 1901), George S. Wilson (1901 – 1903), David D. Klingner (1903 – 1904), John Peterson (1904 – 1907), Thomas M. Kelly (1907), Charles W. Eden (1907 – 1908), Clifton H. Lopez (1908 – 1909), Richard C. Roberts (1909 – 1910), Joseph P. Roberts, Jr. (1910 – at least 1919), C. Turner ( – 1925).
  • Second Assistant: John F. Lowe (1886 – 1889), George E. Richardson (1889 – 1890), Bagley F. Filer (1890), Robert J. Fine (1890), William R. Cook (1890), Octavius L. Bethel (1890 – 1891), George B. Parks (1891), Henry Brown (1891 – 1892), Robert J. Pierce (1892 – 1893), George H. Rabagny (1893 – 1895), Arthur C.E. Hamblett (1895 – 1897), Alfred A. Berghell (1897 – 1899), John Peterson (1899 – 1901), Arthur C.E. Hamblett (1901), David D. Kilnger (1901 – 1903), Claude M. Roberts (1903 – 1904), Henry A. Keyes (1904 – 1905), Martin J. Sheridan (1905), Thomas M. Kelly (1905 – 1907), Charles W. Elden (1907), Clifton H. Lopez (1907 – 1908), Richard C. Roberts (1908 – 1909), Richard Palmer (1909), Joseph P. Roberts, Jr. (1909 – 1910), Raymond S. Russell (1910), Stanley Saunders (1910), F.C. Smith (1910 – 1911), C.H. Lopez (1911), Robert R. Knowles (1911), Richard Palmer (1911 – 1912), H. Albury (1912), Thomas L. Kelly (1912 – 1917), William H. Bethel (at least 1919), Robert J. Moore ( – 1925).

Copyright © 2001- Lighthousefriends.com
Pictures on this page copyright National Archives, Florida State Archives, Coast Guard, used by permission.
email Kraig