Climb a Gulf Coast lighthouse with more than a century of history – Daily Democrat

Patrick Connolly | Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — What debuted in the late 1800s as a shining beacon of light, then eventually fell into disrepair, is now back in restored condition and open for visitors to climb 127 steps to the top.

The Anclote Key lighthouse is a national historic landmark situated a few miles west of Tarpon Springs along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Although the lighthouse was battered by Hurricane Idalia, which tore through the Big Bend region of the state in late August, it recently received an $800,000 facelift, including a fresh coat of paint inside and out. This follows a $1.5 million restoration project that wrapped up in September 2003, ushering in a bright new chapter with a relighting ceremony.

Modern-day visitors are welcome to view the beacon from a distance or visit the lighthouse by boat during monthly open houses, exploring its storied history which dates back to 1887.

Barbara Hoffman, president of Friends of Anclote Key State Park and Lighthouse, said its construction of cast iron with a supportive exoskeleton has helped this 110-foot structure stand the test of time. Costing about $35,000 of congressional funds in 1887, Anclote Key’s light was built similarly to the Sanibel Lighthouse and Cape San Blas Light.

“They’re built to withstand storms. They have that architecture where the wind can blow through,” Hoffman said. “They’re made of cast iron, so they’re very heavy, and they don’t rust over time. They’re built so high tide and waves can’t get to them, built to last forever.”

Since the first lighting in the late 1880s, a lighthouse keeper and assistant keeper hauled oil up to the top and manually turned on the lighthouse as dusk approached. In 1952, the lighthouse was automated by the Coast Guard as channel markers and navigation aids became more common. It was deactivated in 1985.

Although natural causes haven’t been able to topple or disrupt the long-standing stature, rowdy teens and unwelcome visitors trashed the island and its structures in the 1980s and 1990s after the Coast Guard left. The two keepers’ houses were burnt down by arsonists.

“There was a tree growing up through the middle. People set it on fire, broke the windows and stole pieces of it. It was just really a mess,” Hoffman said. “There was a group of citizens who got together from Tarpon Springs. They got grants and businesses to chip in. It took them several years, but they got enough money to restore the whole thing.”

Today, an off-grid residence sits just north of the lighthouse, and a ranger lives there full-time, guarding the lighthouse against future acts of vandalism.

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