Visit the oldest lighthouse in the state of Florida, located on Amelia Island in Fernandina Beach.
One of the most historic landmarks on Amelia Island is this lighthouse, perched high on a bluff above Egans Creek, built between 1838 to 1839.
Lighthouse tours can be arranged through the Fernandina Beach Recreation Center located on Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina (see more below).
Besides being the oldest lighthouse in Florida, it’s also noteworthy being one of only two remaining lighthouses in the state designed by Winslow Lewis, the American lighthouse builder.
The lighthouse itself is located on a 60-foot bluff (i.e. 60 feet above sea level) overlooking marshland grasses and Egans Creek. It also showcases a very rare granite spiral stairway. The unique location of Amelia’s lighthouse, being three quarters of a mile inland (more sheltered from inclement weather), has helped preserve the structure. In fact, it is the “westernmost lighthouse on the east coast of the United States,” just one of the interesting facts learned on the lighthouse tour. It is the only lighthouse in Florida from the “Territorial Period” that has survived without major rebuilding.
MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE AMELIA ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE
The lighthouse is constructed of brick – a “double-walled tower — a cone within a cone — with metal cupola” and stands 67 feet tall. This brick lighthouse actually was first built in 1820 on neighboring Cumberland Island, Georgia, across the channel from Fernandina Beach, and was known as the Cumberland tower. Nature shifted the channel southward, and as a result, the navigational usefulness of the tower on Cumberland became obsolete. Reportedly, in 1834, Congress was petitioned by people of the Florida Territory, requesting the lighthouse be moved from Cumberland across the waterway to Amelia Island. Brick by brick, the tower on Cumberland was dismantled in 1838 and reconstructed using the same bricks on Amelia Island, and completed in 1839.
THIRD-ORDER FRESNEL LENS
Originally, the lighthouse used 14 oil lamps (burning whale oil and lard oil) with reflectors. Later, kerosene was used as fuel. The original oil house survived, located adjacent to the tower. In 1903, the oil lamps were replaced with a Third-Order Fresnal lens that is still in place today. This type of lens, reportedly was “state of the art” in the 19th century, and came in six strengths – the First Order being the largest. The Amelia Island lighthouse lens has 12 sections, each with a “round convex bulls-eye panel” that provides the bright flash of light as the lens rotates.
The Amelia Island’s lighthouse signature is a flash every 10 seconds. There’s also a red sector in the southeast quadrant that creates a red flash to warn boaters of Amelia Island’s dangerous shoals on the southend. The flash of the lighthouse on Amelia Island can be seen about 16 nautical miles.
Book A Tour of Amelia Island Lighthouse
Tours of the Amelia Island lighthouse grounds can be booked through the Fernandina Beach Recreation Center located on Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina, by calling (904)310-3350. To participate in the lighthouse tour, you do need an advance reservation. Keep in mind the lighthouse tour is only given two days per month (the first and third Wednesday each month at 10 am). The tour costs $5 per person, ($3 for kids under 12) and participants catch the shuttle bus to the lighthouse from the Fernandina Beach Recreation Center located at 2500 Atlantic Ave., (it’s very close to Fort Clinch State Park and Fernandina’s Main Beach Park). The shuttle bus ride is just a few minutes, and expect to be on the lighthouse property for about an hour. Much of the presentation is done inside an air conditioned building on the property. There’s a maximum of 25 people for each tour (minimum 10). Note that climbing the lighthouse staircase is not permitted.
The lighthouse tour itself is a rare treat, with insight from someone who actually lived at the lighthouse as a child, Ms. Helen O’Hagan, the Amelia Island lighthouse keeper. With long family history of lighthouse keeping, the tour guide, Ms. Helen, is of the O’Hagan lighthouse keeper family. Both her father (Thomas John O’Hagan) and grandfather (Thomas Patrick O’Hagan), were Amelia Island lighthouse keepers for half a century, from 1905 through 1954.
Public Viewing Saturdays
The Amelia Island Lighthouse property is also open for public viewing on Saturdays from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. The lighthouse is located at 215 O’Hagan Lane (turn onto North Wolff Street from Atlantic Avenue near Egans Creek Park).