ILLUMINATING APPARATUS: Jewel of the Forgotten Coast

The Crooked River Lighthouse was first lit with a 4th Order Bivalve Fresnel Lens. This lens was manufactured by well-known French Lens and clockmaker Henry Lepaute in his factory on Rue de Lafayette, Paris, France in 1894. This particular 4th order lens is a rare, one-third open, bivalve shape made of brass and glass prism rings. It is a distinct 90-degree separated bullseye “group” flashing glass lens. Bivalve Fresnel lenses were first introduced in the USA at the Chicago Columbia Exhibition of 1893. It is thought that the Crooked River Lighthouse’s lens may have been one of the earliest installations of a bivalve lens in America.


1894: Crooked River Lighthouse’s 4th Order Bivalve Fresnel Lens Manufactured by Henry Lepaute in his factory on Rue de Lafayette, Paris, France

1895: The 4th order bivalve lens was placed in the top of the newly assembled tower at Crooked River Lighthouse. The height of the focal plane was 115’ 2” above mean high water. It is thought that this may have been one of the earliest installations of a bivalve lens in the USA.

October 28th, 1895: The very first entry in the Keeper’s log recorded: “ By Official Order from Commander William B. Newman, U.S.N., Lighthouse Inspector, 7th District, the Crooked River Light was lit at 5- 12 P.M. by James A. Williams. Keeper”. Williams, at the end of the first day of service, added, “Everything worked well, weather was clear and fine, Keeper stood watch to 12 p.m. Light was good throughout the watch. Commander Newman came to see how it worked at 8 p.m.”. The lens gave two flashes every ten seconds. On clear nights the light was visible approximately 15 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.

1933: The lighthouse was electrified.

1952: The light was automated.

1976: Removal of the Lens from Crooked River Lighthouse
The Coast Guard inspectors noticed mercury leaking from the "bowl", a container filled with mercury facilitating the rotation of the very heavy lens. 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".

1995: Crooked River Lighthouse decommissioned by the Coast Guard

Summer of 1999: Barbara Revell and a group of local citizens form the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association to save the lighthouse from being lost at auction.

2000: Discovery of the location of the original lens
During research conducted by the CLA, historian John Canetta uncovered a small note about the location of the original lens in a file in the spring of 2000. By late 2000, the Coast Guard and CLA were able to determine that upon removal from the Crooked River Lighthouse, the original lens was relocated to a special collection located at the 8th US Coast Guard District Headquarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. Many lenses removed from operating lighthouses during this era were warehoused in a group and their history and place of origin became lost.

2005: The Long Groundwork for the Return of the Lens Began
The lighthouse is restored, the land surrounding the lighthouse is acquired, and a replica Keeper’s House is constructed. Informal discussions with the Coast Guard as well as formal requests for the return of the Lens were initiated.

December 8, 2007: A replica acrylic lens fashioned to match the original was fabricated and the tower was relit with its original light pattern as a private aid to navigation. From that point until today, in keeping with historic purpose, the tower’s beacon functions to mark East Pass, the gap between Dog Island and St. George Island providing safe passage to area boaters.

2019: The Coast Guard agreed to return the original Crooked River Lighthouse Fresnel lens on a long-term loan.

Early 2020: Under the direction of the Crooked River Lighthouse Curator, Joan Matey, the CLA selected and hired a Lampist, a lens specialist who is authorized to safely transport these historic artifacts.

February 2020: Lampist Kurt Fosberg and CLA Historian, John Canetta were dispatched to pack her up and bring her home.

February, 19th, 2020: The Crooked River Lighthouse 4th-order Fresnel lens returns home. The work began to research, create, fabricate, and manufacture the artifacts, exhibits, and items needed to not only to appropriately showcase this one of a kind artifact but to bring it back to life. Michigan Lampist, Kurt Fosberg began to painstakingly craft a replica burner which would be used to once again relight this jewel.

January 13th, 2023: The original, historic Fresnel bivalve lens equipped with its replica burner was revived and relit with a 25-watt bulb. Outfitted with and driven by a modern electric motor, the lens begins rotating once again. The original Crooked River Lighthouse 4th order Fresnel lens is now lit and rotating after almost 50 years!

Saturday, February 4th 2023: New exhibit opens to the public. The Crooked River Lighthouse Keeper’s House Museum now houses the one-of-a-kind lens in a newly created steel lighthouse display case, manufactured to mimic the upper portion of the Crooked River Lighthouse Tower Room. The interactive exhibit features artifacts and interpretive panels highlighting the history of lenses and mariner communication, funded through the Florida Lighthouse Association grant programs.