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The First Lighthouse and Keeper's Dwelling (1810)
On October 17, 1804, John Couper, a plantation owner on St. Simons Island, deeded four acres of his land, known as "Couper's Point" at the south end of the island for one dollar to the Federal Government for the construction of a lighthouse. James Gould of Massachusetts was hired in 1807 by the Treasury Department to build the lighthouse and a one-story frame residence. Origional specifications called for the lighthouse to be built of hard brick; however, for economic purposes, most of the material used in the construction was "tabby", a mixture of oyster shell, lime, sand, and water. The uppermost part (12-1/2 feet) was constructed of the "best northward brick." The 75 foot tower, exclusive of the lantern, was an octagonal pyramid, 25 feet in diameter at the base, tapering to ten feet at the top, with a ten-foot iron lantern equipped with oil lamps suspended by chains. The foundation was eight feet thick. An iron lantern ten feet high and eight feet in diameter rested on top of the tower. Oil lamps were suspended on iron chains in the lantern.
Appointed in May 1810 by President Madison as the first keeper, James Gould held this position at an annual salary of $400 until his 1837 retirement. In 1857, a third-order, double-convex Fresnel lens was installed that greatly improved the lighthouse's power and range. During the War Between the States, the Macon Artillery troops and six field guns were stationed at Fort Brown to protect St. Simons Sound. In February 1861, Alexander Couper, son of John Couper, wrote to his brother, James, "I went down to the Island to the officers at 'Fort Brown'- they are comfotably situated in thatched camps. They have built two angles of eighteen-feet base as a breast work. The Fort lies just west of the lighthouse in a corner of Mr. KIng's field." (The Kings were the owners of Retreat Plantation, now the Sea Island Golf Club.)
During the War, the blockade of Federal ships and the subsequent invasion of Georgia by Northern troops forced the Conferderates to evacuate St. Simons Island. Prior to leaving in 1862, the Confederates destroyed Gould's lighthouse so the Federal forces could not use it as navigational aid. For the next ten years, Retreat Plantation's cotton barn served as a navigational reference for ships entering Brunswick harbor. The tall cotton barn was marked on U.S. government maps as "King's Cotton House."
The ruins of the first lighhouse were partially excavated by achaeologists during August 1974. Its boundaries are marked today by a roped area marker. James Gould probably built a frame house to serve as the home the lighthouse keeper and his family. The exact site of that dwelling is not known.