The Historic Pensacola Lighthouse

28 Aug



So. I am still stuck in the hospital. I was told that I would be induced TONIGHT and would be having Tessa TOMORROW. But then they keep changing their minds based on the bazillion and one tests they keep insisting they run. One moment it’s a huge emergency – No water! No food! No going home to check on your cats! Continuous fetal monitoring! You may be induced any moment now!!!- and the next its completely chill. Here, have some food. You don’t need to be on the monitors now. You most likely won’t be induced, but you can’t go home either. We’ll let you know. When will we let you know? We don’t know. Just wait.

The last I heard I won’t be induced because Tessa’s amniotic fluid just stabilized due to my bed rest. So they may just be sending me home any moment now, with bed rest orders and frequent check ups. Who knows? I certainly don’t. It’s nerve wracking, beyond upsetting, and driving me absolutely batty. And in the meantime, I’m stuck in this tiny dimly lit room with my laptop, playing on Facebook and blogging.

So for a distraction I figure, why not catch up on my first week living in Pensacola?

So! Last weekend I told Jonathan that I just couldn’t do stairs anymore. The relaxin in my hips, getting my lady parts all ready to squeeze a watermelon sized infant out, was making going up and down my apartment steps hell. Every step feels like my tail bone wants to fly out and my hips want to pop off, like some comical mechanical toy springing gears everywhere.

So when Jonathan and I had our “date day” this past weekend, what did I want to do? Climb the 177 nearly vertical spiral steps up the historic Pensacola Lighthouse – the fourth tallest lighthouse in the nation. Because I’m brilliant like that.


The lighthouse was built in 1859 and is one of the oldest still working lighthouses in the nation. It is one of the many fascinating historic spots located inside NAS Pensacola. The top of the tower offers stunning views of Pensacola Pass (where Pensacola Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico), the three forts, the Pensacola skyline and the historic Navy Yard… or so I’m told. It was pouring rain when we arrived and our view consisted of squinting through the fogged panes being pelted with rain.

When we arrived, the gals at the museum urged us to “hurry up” because they close the lighthouse when there is lightening present. Apparently the lighthouse has been struck by lightning multiple times in the past, most notably when it was zapped in 1874, and then struck again on the exact same day the following year. Anyhoo, the rain was really coming down, and lightning didn’t seem unlikely, so we paid our entrance fee, and I rushed us to the foot of the stairs. The first thing we were greeted with is a sign urging pregnant women to back the eff off. I took a picture, thumbed my nose at the sign, and plodded on ahead while my husband tried to gently tell me how dumb I was being.


It wasn’t until about a quarter of the way up that I realized that climbing this tower may not have been the smartest plan. My hips and legs were KILLING ME. Tessa was riding up high under my ribcage, so I couldn’t get enough air. And to make matters worse, we see a bright flash of lightning right out the first window. Jonathan insisted we just come back on another day. But me, being, well, me – I took this all as a challenge and decided we HAD TO reach the top of the stairs before staff came and dragged us down.

So, at 8 months pregnant, I raced up the stairs with my husband, practically crawling along the railing, with lightning flashing out the windows every step of the way… and we made it to the top, me breathless and shaking. The second we reached the top step we were met by a gentleman who greeted us with, “Great job! Now go back down. We’re closing the lighthouse up.” So we had roughly 60 seconds of staring around the top, and viewing the huge lights, before making our descent back to ground level.

Despite feeling nauseous, weak and breathless from the excursion, and having our victory climb cut short, it was quite the adventure! It’s definitely a story to tell Tessa one of these days, haha.






So! Here are some fascinating facts regarding the lighthouse, mostly stolen off of pamphlets and internet searches, haha!:

Soon after the United States took control of Florida from Spain in 1821, the federal government recognized the importance of Pensacola’s harbor and moved to establish both a naval yard and lighthouse there. On March 3, 1823, Congress authorized $6,000 for the Pensacola Lighthouse. On March 24, 1824, Winslow Lewis, responding to an advertisement in the Boston Patriot, offered to build the lighthouse and dwelling.

A nice little podunky light tower was built with the funds, but by 1850, regular complaints were starting to be voiced regarding the lighthouse. The trees around the house got in the way of signals. The light was too dim and ships were like, “WTF?” So on and so forth. So by 1852, the newly established Lighthouse Board recommended that a “first-class seacoast light” with a height no less than 150 feet be built at Pensacola. Congress allocated $25,000 for the lighthouse in 1854, and an additional $30,000 in 1856.

A site was selected one-half mile west of the original lighthouse, and work on the tower (the one we climbed!) was supervised by John Newton of the Army Corps of Engineers. Construction was completed in 1858, and the lamp in the tower’s first-order Fresnel lens was first lit on New Year’s Day, 1859 by Keeper Palmes. The tower, which has a basal diameter of thirty feet and gradually tapers to fifteen feet, stands 160-feet-tall. The bottom third of the tower remained white to stand out against the trees, but the top portion was painted black to stand out against a possibly cloud-filled sky.


Now here’s where the lighthouse history gets really interesting! On January 10, 1861, Florida seceded from the United States. Union forces abandoned Fort Barrancas in favor of Fort Pickens, located on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, allowing the lighthouse to fall into the hands of Confederates, who eventually discontinued the light and removed the lens. The opposing forces warily watched one another across the bay for months.

Then on November 22, 1861, a two-day artillery battle erupted. The “Lighthouse Batteries” were frequent targets for the guns of Fort Pickens, and roughly half a dozen rounds struck the tower. Confederates evacuated the area on May 9, 1862, and the lighthouse fell under Union control. None of the rounds penetrated the outer wall of the lighthouse, and the tower was found to be in good condition. A fourth-order lens was placed in the lantern room, and the tower was lit again on December 20, 1862.

During the twenty-three years following the relighting of the tower after the war, eleven individuals served as head keepers. Nine of them had to be removed for reasons ranging from intoxication to dereliction of duty. Finally, in 1886 the appointment of George T. Clifford ended the string of short-timers. Clifford served thirty-one years, until his retirement in 1917.



Pensacola Light Station was switched to electricity in the late 1930s, and in 1939 the tower was transferred to the Coast Guard. The station remained manned until automation in 1965. With the dwelling unused and the tower posing possible risk to jets using the airfield completed nearby, plans to demolish the station were discussed. These plans added fuel to a growing preservation movement in Pensacola, and in 1971, Gulf Islands National Seashore was established to help preserve Fort Barrancas, Fort Pickens, and Pensacola Lighthouse.

Oh yeah, and the place is supposed to be haunted. I guess it’s been featured on all kinds of TV Ghost Hunter type shows? I don’t particularly care for all that drivel. But you can YouTube search the lighthouse and find hundreds of paranoid ghost hunters with “video proof” of the frequent hauntings there, if you care to check it out.

But anyway, this was actually my first excursion up a lighthouse! Jonathan’s too. We’d never been in one before. And while we didn’t have time to leisurely stroll the spiraled ascent, chasing the lightning storm and all, it was a blast! It’ll definitely be a fun story to share with Tessa one of these days…


2 Responses to “The Historic Pensacola Lighthouse”

  1. iamstacey August 30, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    I hope you and baby Tessa are doing just fine! OMG I can’t believe you climbed all those stairs. We have stairs broken into three landings, and I have to rest at each one. You are crazy!

    I can’t believe you went to church ON THE BEACH!! That’s so frickin’ awesome! I miss the beach soooo much.

    Let us know how you are doing. Wishing you and Tessa all the best!

  2. Pip August 30, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    A: Gorgeous! B: You never fail to amuse me. Seriously, chica??? Climbing those??? Tessa sensed your impatience. 😉

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