Pensacola Lighthouse: A Timeline



In March, Congress appropriates $6,000 to fund the construction of a lighthouse in Pensacola


In June, a site is selected for the new lighthouse (near the present-day Navy Lodge, built in 2005); while construction is underway, the lightship Aurora Borealis arrives from the Mississippi River to serve as a navigational aid at the entrance to the harbor


The United States adopts the Monroe Doctrine, declaring that any further efforts by European nations to colonize territories or interfere with the affairs of countries in North or South America would be viewed as an act of aggression (however, the term “Monroe Doctrine” is not invented until the 1850s)



Construction begins on the first Pensacola Lighthouse, a 40-foot white brick tower equipped with ten whale oil lamps, each flame strengthened by a fourteen-inch reflector


Recognizing the importance of Pensacola’s harbor, Congress passes a Senate bill authorizing the “establishment of a Navy Yard at or near Pensacola”


The Pensacola Lighthouse’s first keeper, Jeremiah Ingraham, begins his service; in December, the lamps are lit for the first time



Plans are drawn out for the communities of Warrington and Woolsey, which will be located north and west of the Navy Yard



As part of a national effort to fortify the nation’s ports, Fort Pickens, the first of three forts that will circle and defend the mouth of Pensacola Bay, is constructed at the western tip of Santa Rosa Island (later, the shifting sands will move the entrance to the bay farther to the west)



Settlers beginning migrating to the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail



Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, many of the Native Americans living in the Deep South are forcibly relocated to western territories, thus emptying large tracts of land for the benefit of white settlers



Fort McRee is built at the eastern tip of Perdido Key, on a stretch called Foster’s Bank (by 19--, the location of the entrance to Pensacola Bay will shift to the west, causing Fort McRee to slowly collapse into the Gulf)



Coronation of Queen Victoria, for whom the “Victorian age” is named and whose long reign shaped the social and political attitudes of Western civilization for the rest of the 19th century and beyond



Fort Barrancas, the last of the three forts guarding Pensacola Bay, is built on the barrancas, or bluffs, approximately half a mile east of the First Pensacola Lighthouse on the site of the colonial-era Spanish Fort San Carlos de Barrancas



Following Jeremiah Ingraham’s death, his widow Michaela takes over the position of lighthouse keeper; she remains the only woman appointed to the position of Head Keeper of the Pensacola Light Station



Florida is admitted as the 27th state in the Union


1846-1848    Mexican-American War



California Gold Rush



The newly established United States Light-House Board begins overseeing the Lighthouse Establishment. The Board’s primary goal is to modernize and streamline lighthouse construction and management of the nation's 331 lighthouses and 42 lightships. 


The Light-House Board divides the nation’s lighthouses into 12 districts, each overseen by an inspector (and later, also by an engineer) responsible for supervising the construction and proper maintenance of his district’s lighthouses



Keeper Michaela Ingraham hands her post over to her son-in-law, Joseph Palmes (or Palmer; the records are unclear) who will serve until 1858, becoming the first keeper of the new (current) Pensacola Lighthouse



Congress appropriates $25,000 to replace the original Pensacola Lighthouse with a “first class seacoast light;” later, an additional $30,000 is appropriated to complete the project



Construction commences on the new lighthouse tower at a site half a mile west of the original lighthouse



The new lighthouse is first lit on January 1, New Year’s Day; standing 151 feet tall (and 191 feet above sea level), it boasts a first-order Fresnel lens, the most powerful lens then available


1861-1865    American Civil War



In January, as tensions between northern and southern states escalate, Florida secedes from the Union; Confederate troops take the lighthouse, along with Fort Barrancas and McRee


Keeper Palmes resigns, unwilling to remain on the Union payroll


In April, hostilities erupt between the Confederates at Fort Barrancas and the Union troops stationed at Fort Pickens


Palmes’ replacement, Oscar Philibert, is ordered to extinguish the lamp; caretaker Samuel Glass is appointed to replace him


In December, the base of the tower is struck by solid shot from Fort Pickens and is damaged in at least three places



Confederate forces evacuate Pensacola; Union troops take possession of the lighthouse. Union officials decide not to re-light the first-order lens until the area is entirely secured. Instead, lighthouse engineer Max Bonzano installs a captured fourth-order lens; the tower is relit on December 20



Reconstruction Era; Federal troops occupy the former Confederate states in an attempt to suppress violence and promote the speedy reintegration of these states into the Union



During this short period, eleven different keepers serve at the Pensacola Lighthouse; nine are removed from the position for offenses ranging from intoxication to neglect of duties



On April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, officially ending the Civil War


President Abraham Lincoln assassinated


1866 & 1867   

The Caycas and Barrancas Range Lights are re-established to mark the entry to the harbor



The first-order Fresnel lens is recovered and restored to the tower, and the day mark is altered; the lower third of the tower is painted white to contrast with surrounding trees, while the upper two-thirds are black, to stand out against the sky


Construction is completed on the Keepers’ Quarters; this two-story residence is a symmetrical duplex built to house the head keeper, assistant keeper, and their families


The Suez Canal opens



Lightning strikes the lighthouse twice, melting metal fixtures in the tower



Samuel Lawrence begins service as head keeper



The tower is repointed and repainted



Mineral oil lamps are installed in the lighthouse (replacing the earlier lamps that burned whale oil, also known as ambergris)



The lantern is damaged when wild ducks fly through the lens room



George “Tucker” Clifford becomes head keeper


In August, vibrations from the Great Charleston Earthquake shake the tower, lasting “between three and four minutes” and accompanied by a loud rumbling, “as if people were ascending the steps making as much noise as possible”



Brick oil-house built



Wooden shed built to store empty oil cans



The frame addition to the rear of the dwelling becomes a kitchen, connecting the tower to the Keepers’ Quarters; around the same time, a second storey is added to Keepers’ Quarters porch



U.S. lighthouse keepers become civil service employees


1898    Spanish-American War



President William McKinley assassinated


First Trans-Atlantic Radio Signal transmitted



New gallery (porch) is built adjoining the kitchen



Clifford’s daughter, Ellen (“Ella”) marries Ernest Miller (Mueller) at the lighthouse


Wright Brothers make their first flight at Kitty Hawk



Five months after giving birth to her daughter, Naomi, at the Navy Hospital, Ella Clifford Miller dies from childbirth complications; her parents adopt Naomi and raise her at the lighthouse



Henry Ford introduces the Model-T



Congress abolishes the Light-House Board and replaces it with the Bureau of Lighthouses (better known as the United States Lighthouse Service) within the Department of Commerce



Roald Amundsen reaches the South Pole



The RMS Titanic sinks in the North Atlantic



The Navy Department establishes the United States’ first aeronautical station at the Pensacola Navy Yard; during World War I, the station will train more than 1,000 pilots


1914-1918    World War I (the “Great War”)



RMS Lusitania sunk by a German U-Boat



George Clifford retires as Keeper after thirty-one years of service


U.S. enters World War I



The Russian Revolution brings about the end of the Russian Tsarist autocracy and the beginning of the Bolshevik government, later known as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union



The ratification of the 18th Amendment and the passage of the Volstead Act illegalize “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” marking the onset of the Era of Prohibition


Women in the U.S. gain the right to vote



The village of Woolsey is razed to make way for an expansion of Navy facilities



Charles Lindbergh flies solo across the Atlantic


1929-1939    Great Depression



The village of Warrington (“Old” Warrington) is razed and relocated as “New Warrington,” across Bayou Grande



Amelia Earhart becomes first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic



Prohibition ends with the ratification of the 21st Amendment



When the U.S. Coast guard absorbs the duties of the Bureau of Lighthouses, Bureau personnel are given the choice either to enter the Coast Guard in a military position or to remain civilian employee; in Pensacola, Head Keeper Louis Buras elects to join the Coast Guard, while Assistant Keepers James Hatten and Mr. Wright remain in the civil service


In October, electricity is installed at the Pensacola Light Station; the Quarters are also equipped with indoor plumbing


The road to the lighthouse (Shell Road – Radford Boulevard did not yet exist) is paved with brick and rubble from the recently demolished Fort Barrancas barracks


1939-1945    World War II



As the U.S. enters World War II, NAS Pensacola expands rapidly, training a record number of aviation cadets



Keeper Buras transfers to the Coast Guard Station in New Orleans, and Assistant Keeper James Hatten becomes the new Head Keeper; for the remainder of World War II, the Hattens and Mr. Wright will live in Warrington, returning each night to tend the light, while a Coast Guard surveillance team occupies the Keeper’s Quarters, scanning the harbor for German U-boats



Pensacola’s last civilian lighthouse keeper, James Hatten, retires after twenty-two years of service (1931-1953), and Coast Guard personnel take over the keeper’s duties


1955-1975    Vietnam War



President John F. Kennedy assassinated



The Pensacola Lighthouse is fully automated and the Keepers’ Quarters vacated


The Navy begins renting out rooms in the Keepers’ Quarters



The Light Station’s dilapidated chicken yard is torn down



Pensacola Light Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places



Bids solicited to tear down the derelict Keepers’ Quarters and outbuildings            



Public pressure and the concerted efforts of a number of military personnel and civilians save the Keepers’ Quarters from demolition


1991   The Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm)



The Pensacola Light Station receives extensive repairs; the Keepers’ Quarters is renovated and made habitable once more



The Coast Guard Auxiliary begins offering public tours of the Light Station


2001    Attacks of September 11 (9/11)


2001-present    War in Afghanistan


2003-2011    Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom)



The Pensacola Lighthouse Association is established


January 2007

The Coast Guard closes the lighthouse to the public



The Coast Guard permits the Pensacola Lighthouse Association to re-open the lighthouse and resume conducting public tours


Florida Governor Charlie Crist attends the Pensacola Lighthouse’s Grand Re-Opening Ceremony


January 2009

Sesquicentennial anniversary of the Pensacola Lighthouse


July 2009   

New “Light of the Moon” tours give visitors a chance to explore the Pensacola Light Station by moonlight


September 2009   

SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters investigate the Pensacola Lighthouse, airing footage from this visit during their fifth season



Popular interest in the lighthouse is growing; to handle the increasingly steady flow of visitors, the Pensacola Lighthouse Association, formerly an all-volunteer organization, hires its first employees and opens the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum



For the first time, the Pensacola Lighthouse is open to the public seven days a week


The Keepers’ Quarters two-story wrap-around porch is restored


Summer 2012  

The dilapidated 1890s Carriage House is renovated, becoming the new Visitor’s Center and Museum Shop


October 2012   

Pensacola Bay Area Impact 100 awards the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum a $104,000 grant to help restore the historic 1859 lighthouse tower