To visit the Amelia Island Lighthouse, take exit 373 off of I-95 and make a left turn onto A1A and follow the signs pointing to Ft. Clinch State Park. Stay on A1A until it dead ends and then make a right onto Atlantic Ave. To get to the lighthouse grounds make a left onto N. Wolfe and then a right onto Lighthouse Circle. If you continue down Atlantic you will come to a marsh on the left and you may pull off on the side of the road for the view pictured to the right.
The City of Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for the Amelia Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse is gated and is not open to the general public on a daily basis. Tours are offered on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays each month at 10 am. Reservations must be made 48 hours in advance and the fee is $5 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. For information on the tours, contact (904) 277-7350.
The Amelia Island Lighthouse was first constructed in 1820, and began its days on Little Cumberland Island, the southern most of Georgia’s islands. The height of the tower was a modest fifty-feet, and was used to mark the entrance to the St. Mary’s River. In 1839, the Lighthouse Board moved the structure to Amelia Island, where the light would better serve the navigational needs of the area.
When it was reconstructed, the height of the tower was raised fourteen-feet, increasing the distance and effectiveness of the light. The light was produced by four whale-oil lamps, each with its own reflector, and was then rotated to give the lighthouse its flashing nighttime characteristic. A third-order Fresnel lens was installed in the tower in 1856, and was illuminated by a 1500 candlepower oil lamp. In the 1920’s, a red sector was added to the optic to warn vessels of the nearby shoals in the Nassau Sound. Electricity was in use by the
1930’s, leading to the lights automation in 1956. The lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 13, 2003.
In 2001, the Coast Guard gave the Amelia Island Lighthouse, oil house, and surrounding property to the City of Fernandina Beach. Since that time, the city has been responsible for the maintenance of these structures and the property. The city is overseeing the current restoration of the lighthouse tower, which has been funded by a $350,000 grant donated by the Florida Division of Historical Resources. Worth Contracting, Inc. is completing the restoration work in cooperation with Kenneth Smith Architects, both firms located in Jacksonville, FL.
The only parts of the lighthouse currently owned by the Coast Guard are the lens and related equipment, as the lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation. Volunteers in the Coast Guard Auxiliary assist the Coast Guard in maintaining the working light. Since the major focus has been on the restoration of the lantern room and the parapet (gallery), a modern optic has been placed on the exterior of the tower until work is completed. Though protected from being damaged, the historic third-order Fresnel lens still remains in the tower. The glass window panels have been removed from the lantern room while work is underway.
The landing of the parapet, its supports and railing are all made of cast iron. Salt air and the lack of maintenance over the years have caused the ironwork to rust and weaken. The railing and the parapet landing have all been removed, along with one of the supports. From these pieces, molds have been cast and completely new identical pieces have been formed and will be placed on the tower. The remaining supports still have to be removed before the new pieces can be put into place. This is proving to be a difficult task. Workers must scale the tower using a “spider,” which is a special device used to hoist workers up the sloping sides. The brickwork must then be carefully removed from around the supports to minimize damage to the remaining brickwork.
Since the bricks that are being removed from the tower cannot be reused, restorers of the lighthouse structure faced another problem. The original brickwork used in the construction of the tower was different than what is made today. Luckily, matching bricks have been obtained from a supplier of historic bricks, which came from other structures that fell into disrepair. Once these bricks are on site and available for workers to utilize in the restoration, the new supports, parapet landing, and railing can be installed.
The goal is to have the restoration completed by June 2004. Plans are being made by the city to open the tower for public viewing on a limited basis. Small groups will be allowed to visit the lighthouse and climb the sixty-nine granite stairs for an excellent view of Amelia Island and the Atlantic Ocean. For more informaion on visiting the lighthouse, contact: Parks and Recreation Department, 2500 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, (904) 277-7350.