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YOU ARE HERE: Project Oaktree: History & Lore:

The Second Lighthouse and Keeper's Dwelling (1872)

The U.S. Government ordered the construction of a second lighthouse that was placed west of the first. The 104-foot tower which has a 129 step castiron spiral staircase and a adjacent keeper's house were designed by one of Georgia's most noted architects, Charles Cluskey.

Cluskey (1805-1871) was one of the most impotant architects of the period. A native of Ireland, Cluskey worked in Georgia between 1830 and 1847 designing Greek Revival buildings. Later, he served as a consultant in Washington, assisting with ernovations of public buildings such as the Capitol.

Sent to build a lighthouse on St. Simons Island, Cluskey and some of the crew never saw the fruition of their effort, dying in 1871 of malaria, a year before the structures were completed. Official records of the lighthouse keeper stated in 1874: "This station is very unhealthy, and it is attributed to the stagnant water in several ponds in the vicinity."

In 1876 the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment performed a "thorough overhauling" at the lighthouse; workers weather-proofed the roof and walls of the dwelling and installed a speaking tube which ran from the watch room in the tower to the house.

The U.S. Establishment household had to be self-sufficient except for the basic lighthouse supplies such as fuel, paint, ropes, and lighthouse maintenance equipment. The keeper and his assistant shared the dwelling, the keeper living downstairs and the assistant upstairs. A central stairway conected the two households. A tower room connected the keeper's dwelling to the tower. Tempers flared one Sunday morning in March 1880 between the head keeper and his assistant. The arguement left the keeper, Frederick Osborne, dead. Legend claims that his footsteps in the tower have been heard by the wives of later keepers.

In 1890, a fire-proof brick oil house was constructed beside the lighthouse. This 9 by 11 foot building could hold 450 five-gallon oil cans. The lighthouse kerosene lamp was replaced by electricity in 1934. On June 1, 1939, the lighthouse was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S Coast Guard. Twenty years later, the lighthouse was fully automated with timers to turn off and on. The third order Fresnel lens projects the beam eighteen miles. It is operated by one 1,000 watt mogul lamp rotating to produce one beam per minute.

The lighthouse keeper's dwelling (1872) is a unique Victorian design. Architectural details not only enhance the beauty of the structure but draw the eye upward to the tower. Window moldings and acanthus leaves are of cast iron. It is a solid, sturdy structure built of Savannah "gray" brick: The walls are twelve inches thick. The heart pine floors are orginal. Around 1910, when Carl Olaf Svendsen was head lighthouse keeper, the dwelling was altered into two apartments by removing the central starcase. An exterior staircase, stoop, and door were added on the north side giving acces to the second floor. These steps and stoop were removed; the doorway rebricked and the central stairway was rebuilt during the 1975 rehabilitation.

The lighthouse continues under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard who check the light and lens routinely. In1884, the Society signed a lease with the Coast Guard tp allow visitors to climb to the top as part of their tour. With this lease, the Society assumed the responsibility for the care and maintenance of the lighthouse, while the Coast Guard continues to maintain the operational light with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

When the lighhouse was fully automated by the Coast Guard in 1953, the last lighthouse keeper, Mr. David O'Hagen, retired, and the passsageway was taken down to separate the lighthouse from the keeper's house. From 1989-1991, under a major rehabilitation grants from the U.S. Lighthouse Bicentennial Fund, the lighthouse was cleaned and painted. The tower was reconstructed and a public restroom and ramp for the disabled were added as the final phase of the project.


More on the Topic
[ Introduction :: The First Lighthouse :: The Second Lighthouse :: Museum / Historical Society ]