The Sanibel Lighthouse, or as the locals know it – the Point Ybel Light – challenges my romantic notions of lighthouses. Its design doesn’t fit within my dreamy perception of lighthouse living. Although you can view the grounds of the Lighthouse, you can’t enter the tower and climb its 120 steps to the top, or tour the former Keepers’ quarters. Still, as always, I am fascinated with its history.
Prior to 1900, Congress stopped approving expenditures for building masonry lighthouses. As a result, the Lighthouse Board developed what is known as the skeletal design.
First there was the Whitefish Point Class Michigan Experimentals (1861), then the Liston Class Delaware Bay Hexagonals (1876-1881). The third design class was established in 1884, the same year the Sanibel Lighthouse was built. Being the first in this new design, the class was named after it – Sanibel Class Square Skeletals. This design remained prominent until 1910.
An identifying characteristic of the Sanibel Class Square Skeletals is the central cylinder, a broad tube that runs up the center of the structure and contains a stairway to the lantern room at the top. At the bottom, the central column ends approximately ten feet from the ground, where an iron ladder takes you the rest of the way. Another feature is the octagonal shape of the lantern and watch rooms.
In addition, this new lighthouse on Sanibel Island had to be built hurricane-tough. For this purpose, its interlocking iron framework is attached to concrete supports deep in the ground.
Seventeen lighthouses of this design were built. Fourteen of them are still standing today, including three more in Florida – Cape San Blas (1885), Anclote Key (1887), and Crooked River (Carabelle) (1895).
HOW CATTLE LIT THE LIGHT
Requests for a lighthouse on Sanibel Island began in the early 1800s. Finally, in 1881, its building was approved by Congress. It turns out that cattle were the driving force behind this final approval.
In the 19th century, trade with Cuba grew and cattle from Central Florida became a hot commodity. The cattle were rounded up and led onto steamers at Punta Rassa Harbor and shipped off to Cuba. With the increased boat traffic, a lighthouse had to be erected to assure safe passage.
This just goes to show that unique history is everywhere, even right here in Florida. A little curiosity and a little digging can teach a lot.