Monday, March 23, 2009

The Jupiter Lighthouse

This week while in south Florida with my friend Terry for some spring training baseball, I had the opportunity to visit the Jupiter Lighthouse. I enjoy visiting lighthouses and since I have only been up in three of them, I don't like to miss an opportunity when I am traveling in close proximity to one. I'll tell a little bit about this visit, but first I'll throw out some history I dug up on the lighthouse which I found interesting.

The Jupiter Lighthouse was designed by George G. Meade, an engineer and designer of many lighthouses, who later would command the Federal Army in the war between the states. It was he who led the Union Army against General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg.
In 1853, the US Congress had approved the building of 6 lighthouses along the coast of Florida to aid in shipping, and it was thought that the Jupiter lighthouse could be built in a year with a crew of 20 men. But transporting the materials to the site proved difficult because the inlet had silted up and at low tide the water was not deep enough to get a ship loaded with heavy materials through to the building site. Instead, ships had to anchor 35 miles north at the Indian River Inlet and the materials and equipment were then offloaded to flat barges for transport down the Indian River. After various delays, it took 6 years to get all the materials, supplies and equipment in place before construction could begin.

Once construction commenced the project was completed in just 5 months, the building crew being led by the brother in law of the designer. It was completed in 1860, and first lighted on July 10th of that year. In August 1861 during the war between the states, the light went dark and the was not lighted again until 1866. The Jupiter Lighthouse has been operated by the US Coast Guard since 1939.

We scoped out the lighthouse grounds early yesterday morning, to try to find the best place to get some photos. A man we met who was fishing nearby pointed to the spot, across the river from where we were. This confirmed what I suspected since it would put the light off to the right side slightly behind us. We quickly drove back over the bridge and found the spot, and made some photos from there.

I made several different photos, both vertically and horizontally oriented so I would be sure to get one I liked. After we were satisfied that we had the photos we wanted, we went back across the river to the lighthouse grounds and waited for the museum to open. Visitors are not allowed up in the lighthouse without taking their tour. We spent a few minutes looking through the museum while we waited for the tour to begin. Then we were led around the grounds by a volunteer guide, who would eventually lead us up to the top of the lighthouse. We first stopped at a small building near the base of the lighthouse called the oil house. Since in the early days the lighthouse was lit by an oil lamp, this is where the oil was stored. It was stored as lard, and had to be heated to liquefy it, before being hoisted up to the top of the tower where it would supply the lamp.
The lighthouse is built atop a sand dune, with 6 feet of oyster shells serving as a foundation. Building it on higher ground meant that the tower itself would not have to be quite so tall. The tower itself is 125 feet tall, but the total height is about 150 feet when considering the height of the hill on which it sits. There are 35 concrete steps outside leading up to the entrance to the lighthouse, and 104 iron steps inside the lighthouse itself.

Unlike some larger lighthouses, this one has a center post top to bottom, around which the iron spiral stairway winds. In larger lighthouses, the steps wind around the perimeter of the tower leaving an open space down the middle. There is no open space in this one so it is not possible to get a photo showing the inside of the tower, top to bottom. There are 4 landings on the stairway, facing directions 90-degrees apart with a window at each. In the photo above I am looking up from under the stairs, and you can see some people standing in front of the window on the landing above.

The Fresnel lens installed in 1860 during the original construction is still in use today, although one of the 'bulls-eye' lenses was cracked during a hurricane in the 1950's. The angled glass facets of the Fresnel lens shown here bend the light and aim it outward into a concentrated beam, and that's what makes the light visible from so far away. This same principle is used today in many products, including the lens of the 'better beamer' flash entenders that many photographers use to increase the range of their camera flash. It was invented by the French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel.

The lighthouse was refurbished a few years ago and repainted in it's original bright red color, although it is already somewhat faded. There are two 1000-watt bulbs in this fixture, but only one of them burns at a time. If the first bulb burns out, the 2nd one lights. We were told that the bulbs last approximately a year.
Once at the top, you can see quite a distance. In this photo, I am looking toward the southwest.

This tour took a little longer than we had anticipated, so by this time we were ready to make our way back down and head over to the ballpark. We were in town for two spring training baseball games, and this was the morning before the 2nd game. I will be writing about baseball and sharing some photos from the ballpark in my next post.


  1. Interesting comprehensive post. I like the view looking up into the top. Nice series Tim. Blue Skies.

  2. Thanks for the great article! I will be heading over there this weekend to shoot some photos!!