Pensacola Lighthouse: A Timeline

 

1823

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)

 

1824                           

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

 

1827   

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

 

1829-1834   

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)

 

1830s 

Settlers beginning migrating to the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail

 

1831-1838   

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

 

1834-1839   

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)

 

1838   

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

 

1839-1844   

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

 

1840-1855   

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

 

1845   

Florida is admitted as the 27th state in the Union

 

1846-1848    Mexican-American War

 

1848-1855   

California Gold Rush

 

1852   

The newly established United States Light-House Board replaces the Lighthouse Establishment as the agency in charge of overseeing operations at the nation’s 331 lighthouses and 42 lightships; the Board’s primary goal is to modernize and streamline lighthouse construction and management

 

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

 

1855   

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

 

1854   

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

           

1856   

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

 

1859   

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

 

1861   

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

 

1862   

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

 

1863-1877   

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

 

1863-1886   

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

 

1865   

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

 

1886 & 1887   

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

 

1869   

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

 

1875   

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

 

1877   

Samuel Lawrence begins service as head keeper

 

1879   

The tower is repointed and repainted

 

1884   

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

 

1885   

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

           

1886   

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”

 

1892   

Brick oil-house built

 

1894   

Wooden shed built to store empty oil cans

 

1897   

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

 

1896   

U.S. lighthouse keepers become civil service employees

 

1898    Spanish-American War

        

1901   

President William McKinley assassinated

 

First Trans-Atlantic Radio Signal transmitted

 

1902   

New gallery (porch) is built adjoining the kitchen

 

1903   

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

 

Wright Brothers make their first flight at Kitty Hawk

 

1905   

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

 

1908   

Henry Ford introduces the Model-T

 

1910   

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

 

1911   

Roald Amundsen reaches the South Pole

           

1912                           

The RMS Titanic sinks in the North Atlantic

 

1913  

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”)

 

1915   

RMS Lusitania sunk by a German U-Boat

 

1917   

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

           

U.S. enters World War I

 

1917   

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

 

1919  

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

 

1922   

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

 

1927   

Charles Lindbergh flies solo across the Atlantic

 

1929-1939    Great Depression

 

1930   

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

 

1932  

Amelia Earhart becomes first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic

 

1933   

Prohibition ends with the ratification of the 21st Amendment

 

1939   

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

 

1941   

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

 

1942   

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

 

1953   

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

 

1963   

President John F. Kennedy assassinated

 

1965   

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

 

The Navy begins renting out rooms in the Keepers’ Quarters

 

1970s 

The Light Station’s dilapidated chicken yard is torn down

 

1974   

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

 

1980  

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

 

1980s 

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)

 

1992-95      

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

 

1996  

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)

 

2006   

The Pensacola Lighthouse Association is established

 

January 2007

The Coast Guard closes the lighthouse to the public

 

2008   

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

 

2010

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

 

2011   

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