Ponce Inlet, FL

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum - Taking the Tour

Gayle Kurtzer-Meyers

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Ponce Inlet, Florida, USA/Photo By Klaus Hoffmeier

On August 7, I celebrated National Lighthouse Day by exploring the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in Ponce Inlet, Florida. The tour was amazing, and the views spectacular. History runs deep here, and I eagerly immersed myself with every step. Yes, I managed to conquer the 203 steps to the top. Since I did not see you there yesterday, I'll take you on a virtual tour of my experience.

"I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve." -George Bernard Shaw-

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum is a national historic icon located at 4931 South Peninsula Drive in Ponce Inlet, Florida, formerly known as the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse. Later, it was purchased on March 21, 1883, with ten acres of land. When construction of the lighthouse began in 1884, Orville E. Babcock, the chief engineer, and three other people tragically drowned in the inlet. However, construction continued, and in 1887 the tower of the lighthouse was completed.

I am taking the journey nice and slow, absorbing the history, reading the monument signs, and asking questions.

Stepping back In time

The lighthouse buildings sit on acres of manicured grass. As you walk inside the white picket fence that runs all around the property, you see a dozen buildings spread out before you. In the center is the beautiful 175 foot tall Ponce Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Florida. It is a national treasure.

Visible from 20 miles

The lighthouse had a kerosene lamp with a fixed Fresnel lens made in Paris in 1867 by Barbier et Fenestre. Lighthouse keeper William Rowlinski first lit the lamp on November 1, 1887. After that, ships up to 20 miles out to sea could see the new light. Staunch Irish Catholic Thomas Patrick O'Hagan was the man who succeeded Rowlinski as the principal lighthouse keeper. Unfortunately, while O'Hagan was running the light station in 1897, author Stephen Crane fell victim to an offshore shipwreck nearby.

Upgrades to the lighthouse

Between 1905 and 1924, contractors built a new well; shortly after that, a windmill and water tank tower added a more reliable water supply. They replaced the kerosene lamp with an incandescent oil vapor lamp in 1909. During the 1920s, the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse went through some significant changes 1920s, indoor plumbing, a pump generator, and electricity were added to the lighthouse keeper's buildings. In 1926 the name changed to Ponce de Leon Inlet.

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View from lighthouse 175' and 203 steps/Photo By Safetyguy_328

Tower light electrified

In August 1933, a 500-watt electric tower light was installed and replaced the original first fixed lens with a revolving, flashing lens. In 1937, they put in a radio beacon in one of the vacant dwellings on the light station's south side. In 1939, the Coast Guard took control of the lighthouse. During World War II, the buildings became barracks for the Coast Guard. They protected the lighthouse, and they stood to watch, looking for any enemy submarines. In 1953 the entire lighthouse was upgraded to an automatic system. The original lighthouse station abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1970 fell into disrepair. In 1972, through the work of concerned citizens, the town was deeded the abandoned property.

Restoration

A local non-profit organization founded in 1972 restored the lighthouse and began operating it as a museum. Soon they got the lighthouse on the list of the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of only a few 19th-century lighthouses with its original buildings intact. So they fully restored the lighthouse and fixed it to active service. As a result, the lighthouse earned the National Historic Landmark designation in 1998.

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Ponce de Leon Lighthouse with white picket fence/Photo By dave g

Lighting the way

The lighthouse's original first-order lens was restored and has been on display since 2003. In 2004 additional restoration work on the lighthouse's third-order Fresnel lens was completed. And the rotating lens has been put back in the lantern room, which is at the tower's top. As a result, the lighthouse is now a private operational aid to navigation.

I am found that visiting this lighthouse is like stepping back in time—what a perfect way to acknowledge National Lighthouse Day. The staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic in sharing everything they know about Ponce de Leon Lighthouse and the surrounding area.

Lots to explore

There are three keepers' dwellings on the lighthouse grounds, an oil storage house, a woodshed, a pump, and a collector's museum. In addition, there is the Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit Building which has one of the world's finest examples of restored Fresnel lenses. It includes the Cape Canaveral lighthouse's first-order Fresnel rotating lenses and the Ponce Inlet lighthouse's restored original light. Dedicated volunteers dressed in period clothes explain the technology and the importance of the brightness to the vessels that navigate Florida's seas.

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A view from the bottom of a spiral staircase at the Ponce de Leon Inlet light station./Photo By Ryan_Vesey

Exploring the lighthouse

tNational Historic LandmarkPhoto By Ebyabehe lighthouse is a distinctive, russet-colored building that houses the Ponce Inlet Light. When you open the door, your eyes are immediately drawn upward to a winding staircase with 203 steps. As you ascend to the top, you get a sweeping, fantastic view of the scenic towns and Florida's Atlantic coastline Ocean that surrounds the lighthouse. There are several platforms at different levels as you go up the stairs to stop and rest. The last flight of stairs before you get to the top is very steep. But the view from atop the lighthouse is breathtaking. You don't have to brave the stairs as I did to capture the beauty, but it is certainly worth it if you do.

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National Historic LandmarkPhoto By Ebyabe

Historic buildings

The historic dwellings and buildings on the lighthouse grounds will take you back in time and let you see how the keepers of the lighthouse and their families lived and worked. You can even see the beds in which they slept. Then, walk into the small museum, and many neatly displayed artifacts surround you. You will want to allow yourself extra time for this section.

Hours of operation

  • Summer Hours
  • June 1, 2021 - September 6, 2021
    Open Daily, 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM
    (Last Admission at 8:00 PM)
  • Regular Hours
  • September 7, 2021 - May 30, 2022
    Open Daily, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
    (Last Admission at 5:00 PM)

Admission

  • Adults (age 12+): $6.95
    Children (age 3-11): $1.95
    Infants (age 0-2): Free

A fully operating ancient lighthouse

I enjoyed my tour and took in a treasure -trove of sights, sounds, and engaging history. Ponce Inlet, Florida, and the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse is an experience I will remember for a long time. Still to this day, the lighthouse remains one of the oldest operating beacons of light.

"Man must behave like a lighouse; he must shine day and night for the goodness ,of everyman."- Mehmet Murat-

I encourage you to follow the light and schedule a day for this fun family adventure. I'll see you at the top of the stairs if you dare.

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I am a Licensed Community Association Manager for the State of Florida and a published author. My top articles are about Florida RE, property management, and the many beautiful venues and activities available in the Sunshine State. Thank you for reading my work and joining me on the journey.

Kissimmee, FL
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