LIGHTHOUSE HISTORY

IN BRIEF

The lighthouse was lit for the first time on October 28, 1895. It has stood as a beacon, guiding timber ships as well as local fishermen and oystermen through the treacherous pass between Dog and St. George Islands, along Florida's Panhandle.

The Crooked River Light, also known as the Carrabelle Light, was built in 1895 to replace the Dog Island Light on Dog Island, which had been destroyed in 1875 by a hurricane. The location on the mainland allowed the light to serve as the rear range light for the channel to the west of Dog Island, used by ships in the lumber trade. The lightstation grounds originally included a house for both the Keeper and the Assistant Keeper, and several outbuildings. At first the lighthouse was painted metallic brown, then the lower half was painted white, and finally the present daymark of the upper half red and the lower half white was chosen. After being electrified in 1933, the lighthouse was automated and unmanned in 1952. In 1964 the two houses and all outbuildings were sold and removed from the site. The original 4th Order lens was removed by the Coast Guard in 1976, due to mercury leakage in the float container. The lens was replaced by a modern optic and this beacon remained in operation until the lighthouse was decommissioned.

In 1995, the Crooked River Lighthouse was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard which four years later, despite its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, had plans to surplus the lighthouse and auction it off to the highest bidder. It was at this time that the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association (CLA) was formed by a dedicated group of local citizens with the goal of preserving, restoring, and opening the lighthouse to the public. In August 2001 the CLA, in conjunction with the City of Carrabelle, was successful in having the Lighthouse deeded to the City through the Federal Lands to Parks program. Since that time the CLA and City officials have worked to obtain funding for the restoration of this historic treasure of Florida's "Forgotten Coast." The CLA's members are devoted to the worthy cause of restoring this small piece of maritime history. Through its efforts, the CLA has also received funds from the Florida Lighthouse Association, a Florida Communities Trust Land Grant, a Florida Communities Trust Restoration grant, and the Florida Legislature. These funds have been put toward restoration of the lighthouse and improvements to the land surrounding the lighthouse. An acrylic replica of the original glass Fresnel lens was installed and the lighthouse serves as an aid to navigation once again.

The First Keeper, James A. Williams, with Family and Friends

Crooked River Lighthouse complex in the 1940s

Lighthouse aerial 1940s-50s

 

MORE DETAILED TIMELINE OF THE CROOKED RIVER LIGHTHOUSE

The start of the timeline of the events leading up to the construction of the Crooked River Lighthouse, really don't begin in Carrabelle, they begin about five miles out into the Bay on Dog Island. Soon after this area's first lighthouse was built on St. George Island, local mariners saw the need for a second lighthouse in a better location. This location was on Dog Island at a place to guide ships into the bay through the East Pass. Construction on the Dog Island lighthouse began in 1838 and work was completed the following year. The lighthouse stood only 3 years when a storm blew it down along with the Keeper's house.
Construction began on the second Dog Island Lighthouse in 1843 and it was completed later that year. This one lasted until a fierce storm toppled it in 1851. It was rebuilt the following year and it lasted until 1873 when it met the same fate as the two previous lighthouses. About 10 years later, Congress approved the idea for yet another, the fourth, lighthouse on Dog Island, but the Lighthouse Board, said they thought a lighthouse on a mainland location might be in a position to last longer.

Many delays ensued in selecting the mainland site, including changing the wording of the funding appropriation, correcting errors in the land title, and delays caused by a fire in a courthouse. So it wasn't until 1894 that borings were made to determine the character of the foundation soil. Real construction began in January 1895 to erect a 100 foot iron skeletal lighthouse, two keepers' houses, an oil house, a pier, and several outbuildings. Meanwhile a new type (1/3 open bivalve) fourth order lens was ordered from the Henry LaPaute company in Paris, France. This type of lens was so new and unique that it is thought it might have been the first of its type to be installed in the US.

The big day came on October 28, 1895 when at 5:12 PM the Crooked River Lighthouse was lit for the first time by Keeper James A. Williams. Minor changes at the Lightstation occurred over the next several years including fencing around the property, a new pier with a boathouse at the end of it, and a new day mark (color scheme) for the lighthouse. Little change occurred for the next 30 years, until 1933 when the oil burning apparatus in the lens was replaced with an incandescent light bulb. This must have been a very welcome change to the then Keeper Thorwald Hansen, as the daily job of ever so carefully cleaning the very valuable lens suddenly got a lot easier.

In about 1935 the Federal Government relinquished a strip of land to the State for the construction of Highway 98. It's expected that at this time all the supplies needed for the lighthouse arrived via the new highway which lead to the beginning of the deterioration of the pier and wood plank walkway from the boathouse to the lighthouse. More labor saving changes occurred in 1952 as the lighthouse became automated. However with these changes, which included the installation of a motor to replace the old "clockwork" mechanism, and a device to turn the light on at dusk and off at sunrise, the duties of the once all-important Keeper were quickly being eliminated. The Coast Guard realized this and, to the best of our knowledge, the last Keeper left the Lightstation property in either 1953 or 1954. From that time on the Coast Guard staff from the Aids to Navigation section in Panama City made only periodic visits to the lighthouse to make sure the light bulb changer device was stocked with fresh bulbs.

About 10 years after the last Keeper left, the Coast Guard published a bid to sell the 2 Keeper's Houses and all of the various outbuildings. The buildings were purchased by a local couple who moved them to the vicinity of the present day entrance to the Tate's Hell walking trail. Then in 1976 the Coast Guard inspectors noticed mercury leaking from the "float", a container filled with mercury which allowed the very heavy lens to revolve with little or no friction. By this time the Coast Guard was aware of the dangers of mercury, so the lens was removed from the tower and replaced by a small lens, referred to as a "modern optic". The original "classic" lens was taken to the Coast Guard's District 8 Headquarters for display where it remains today. Things rocked along at the Crooked River Lighthouse until 1986 when the Coast Guard painted the lighthouse and made minor repairs to the structure for the last time. Finally in 1995 they posted a notice to mariners of their intention to decommission the lighthouse. Few, if any, complaints were received so in late August of 1995, the light in the Crooked River Lighthouse was turned off, just months short of its 100th anniversary.

In mid 1999 five local folks heard that the Federal Government was about to declare the Crooked River Lighthouse surplus to their needs. This was of great concern to them and they decided to form the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association. In late 1999 they approached Franklin County to see if the county was interested in submitting a proposal to the National Park Service Federal Lands to Parks program to acquire the lighthouse. The county was concerned about possible expenditures related to the lighthouse and said they were not interested in submitting the proposal. Fortunately, the City of Carrabelle was interested in the idea of acquiring the lighthouse with the assistance of the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association. The application was prepared and submitted and at a quarterly meeting of the Florida Lighthouse Association, held in Carrabelle in 2000, it was announced that the lighthouse would be deeded to the City of Carrabelle.

John Canetta, Historian, Carrabelle Lighthouse Association - July 2007


All photos on this page are from the Florida Memory Project.