The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening…
— Virginia Wolfe (To the Lighthouse)
Women Who Kept the Lights
I have this grand romantic notion about lighthouses. Whenever I see one I become completely mesmerized. I wonder what it was like to live in isolation, working all night, every night, to light the way for passing ships.
On my bookshelf sits a book by Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford, Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers. It tells of such women as Hannah Thomas who faithfully kept the light lit at Gurnet Point Light in Plymouth, Massachusetts while her husband was away fighting the British. Then there was Ida Lewis, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, and later, the official lighthouse keeper herself, at Lime Rock beacon off the coast of Rhode Island. Ida not only filled the lamp with oil at sundown and again at midnight, but also managed to rescue over 18 people during her service. A noble profession indeed.
So the mystery of lighthouses is not new for me. Fortunately, with over 1,000 miles of coastline, Florida boasts over 30 lighthouses of its own, each with its own unique history and mystery. Who knows, maybe I’ll find one with a history of a female lighthouse keeper, or at least a wife or daughter who helped out.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
According to the Florida Lighthouse Association, most Florida residents live within 50 miles of a historic lighthouse. I am definitely one of those residents. Whenever my eye catches the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse just south of Daytona Beach, I get this faraway dreamy look in my eyes and I just can’t look away.
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse tower, at 175 feet tall, is the second tallest lighthouse in the United States. Original buildings occupy the lighthouse grounds, and climbing the 203 steps to the top rewards you with an incredible view of the inlet. It’s easy to spend all day here as there is a lighthouse museum, which includes exhibits of the lighthouse keepers and their families, and a building dedicated to a collection of restored Fresnel lenses.
With this being but one lighthouse in a state full of lighthouses, I can now enthusiastically add Number 2 to my List of 50 Things to Love About Florida— exploring Florida’s lighthouses.