For a different perspective on St.SimonsIsland and surrounding waters, climb the 129 circular iron steps of St. Simons Lighthouse.
For a different perspective on St.SimonsIsland and surrounding waters, climb the 129 circular iron steps of St. Simons Lighthouse. Located on the island’s southern tip next to NeptunePark, the 104-foot tower’s beacon shines one white flash every 60 seconds, guiding mariners through St.SimonsSound.
Viewed from the lighthouse, JekyllIsland looms to the south, across the inlet. Yachts cruise the Intracoastal Waterway to the west across the marshes. Beyond, the new SidneyLanierBridge spans the SouthBrunswickRiver, the gateway to Brunswick on the mainland. Beneath you are the pier, park, swimming pool and village. Live oaks cover the island, their branches concealing all but the largest structures. The Atlantic stretches to the eastern horizon, its waters often hiding the treacherous shoals off St. Simons’ eastern shore.
As you will learn from museum displays in the Victorian keeper’s house, this is the second lighthouse built on the 4 acres that plantation owner John Couper deeded to the federal government in 1804 for $1. Before that, from 1738 to 1742, Britain’s Fort St. Simons, which guarded the entrance to the FredericaRiver, stood here. The first lighthouse, a 75-foot octagonal tower erected in 1810, was constructed of tabby, a concrete of lime, crushed shells, sand and water. (Some of the tabby was salvaged from abandoned FortFrederica on St. Simons’ north end.) Oil lamps were suspended from chains inside the glass lantern room until 1857, when a third-order double-convex Fresnel lens was installed. James Gould, who built the lighthouse, was its first keeper, serving for 27 years at a salary of $400 a year.
During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers garrisoned FortBrown at the base of the lighthouse. In the face of a Union invasion in 1862, they destroyed the lighthouse during their retreat. Until the new tower was built in 1872, charts marked nearby Retreat Plantation’s “King’s cotton barn” as the navigational aid.
The present tower, designed by Georgia architect Charles Cluskey, stands just west of the first tower site. The tower is actually two, an exterior conical structure around an interior cylinder. The tower measures 30 feet in diameter at its 3-foot-thick foundation, narrowing to 10 feet at the top. The original lens remains, though the light was automated in 1953 with a 1,000-watt rotating mogul lamp. The beam can be seen 18 miles out to sea. As you climb, listen for the footfalls of Keeper Frederick Osborne‘s ghost. He was murdered here in 1880.
Cluskey designed the keeper’s house to lead the eyes upward to the tower behind it. The house has been restored by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society as a museum. Downstairs, a video depicts the lighthouse history. Exhibits feature the Early Inhabitants, Colonial Plantation Era, Civil War and World War II Ship Building. The furnished second floor represents the living quarters of a 1940s assistant keeper and his family.
The lighthouse complex also includes a Victorian gazebo and 1890 oil house, where kerosene for the lamps was stored before the light was electrified in 1934. The society’s adjacent new HeritageCenter will greatly expand orientation and exhibit space.
Though the lighthouse and its history are impressive, the views from the top — of the endless sea and the myriad waterways snaking through the Marshes of Glynn — are even more impressive.