Garden Key and Dry Tortugas Lighthouses

Garden Key and Dry Tortugas Lighthouses
Anyone who has visited Dry Tortugas National Park will recognize the hexagonal, black, boilerplate iron tower of Garden Key Lighthouse that sits atop one corner of Fort Jefferson. However, this was not the first light tower to be located on Garden Key. As a western extension of the Florida Keys, the Dry Tortugas sit among reefs and shoals that are hazardous to ships. Early in U.S. history, it was recognized that ships traveling from the Mississippi River to the eastern seaboard would have to pass through this area and would need guidance.

In 1824, the U.S. Congress appropriated $8000 to build a lighthouse on Garden Key. A conical brick tower, 65 feet high, was completed in 1826. At that time, the tower contained fifteen lamps set in metal reflectors. However, as complaints about the inadequacy of the light began to add up, the original lamps were replaced by 23 new ones in 1838. Even so, complaints continued.

In 1858, a 150-foot tower, named Dry Tortugas Lighthouse, was built on Loggerhead Key, 3 miles west of Garden Key. The 1st-order Fresnel lens from Garden Key Lighthouse was moved to the new tower. Subsequently, Garden Key light was downgraded to a 4th-order harbor light and renamed Tortugas Harbor Light. It was severely damaged by a hurricane in October of 1873 and replaced by the current iron structure in 1876. In 1912, a fire destroyed the keeper’s house, so an automated acetylene light was installed. In 1921, it was removed and replaced by a decorative light. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1924.

Here are several other interesting facts about Garden Key Light:
• In 1848, American author James Fenimore Cooper published his novel Jack
Tier: or the Florida Reefs. It takes place during the Mexican-American
War and is set at Garden Key Lighthouse.
• Garden Key Lighthouse was one of five Gulf Coast lighthouses featured on
postage stamps released by the United States Postal Service in 2009.

Dry Tortugas Lighthouse

Dry Tortugas Lighthouse, a.k.a. Loggerhead or Loggerhead Key Lighthouse, was built because the Garden Key Lighthouse was determined to be inadequate for shipping safety. Its powerful light illuminated the most dangerous area of the Dry Tortugas, at their western end. Captain Daniel P. Woodbury, who was overseeing the construction of Fort Jefferson, was also put in charge of building the light station on Loggerhead Key. In addition to the tower, the station also contained a 2-story house for the principal and assistant keeper, a second 2-story structure that held a kitchen in its first story and an apartment for another assistant in its second story, a brick oil house for storage of the lantern fuel, and 2 brick cisterns for collection of rain water, as the Tortugas have no other source of fresh water.

In 1931, the lantern was replaced by an electric lamp, making it the most powerful beacon in America. It was reported to be seen by ships over 50 miles distant. The lighthouse was automated in 1987 and decommissioned in 2015.

Here are a couple of interesting facts about Dry Tortugas Lighthouse:
• Dry Tortugas and Garden Key were the only 2 lighthouses on the Gulf
Coast to remain in continuous operation throughout the War Between the
• It is farther from the mainland than any other lighthouse in the world.

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