To visit the St. John's River Lighthouse, take Hwy. 108 south from Amelia Island. Hwy 108 will lead you to a ferry terminal. Take the quick ferry ride across the river, and after exiting the ferry parking lot, make a left. Then take the next right and follow that road around a few curves and the lighthouse will be visible on the left. There will be a small sandy spot on the left side of the road where you can park and view the lighthouse.
Since the establishment of a small colony by French Explorer Jean Ribault in 1565, the St. John's River has been a major avenue of travel for mariners in northeastern Florida. The effort by the French to colonize this area did not take hold and lead to the establishment of a Spanish mission that was known as “San Juan del Puerto, or St. John of the Harbor.” Later, the river came to be known as the San Juan, before it was changed to St. John.
The Lighthouse Board went to work and established a light station to mark the entrance to the river. The lighthouse was completed in 1830 at a cost of $24,000. Surging tides caused such great damage to the foundation of the tower that it had to be torn down in 1835, just five years after its construction. Later that year, work was completed on a new tower located further upriver from the previous station. However, by the early 1850’s, the lighthouse had to be replaced again. Winds had built great sand dunes on the ocean side of the tower so that mariners were unable to see the tower's light.
Again, the Lighthouse Board began constructing a new tower in 1858. On January 1, 1859, the third St. John's River lighthouse was in operation. The tower stood sixty-five feet in height and was fitted with a third order Fresnel lens. In operation for just a few years before the breakout of the Civil War, the lighthouse was used
to help navigate the river by Union forces for attacks on Confederate positions. Confederate forces finally shot out the light, ending its usefulness to the Union Army.
The end of the Civil War allowed crews to repair the damage to the tower and it was re-lit. In 1887, the height of the tower was raised fifteen feet. The lighthouse served until it was decommissioned in 1929 and replaced by a lightship, which was anchored at sea near the mouth of the river.
Today, the St. John's River lighthouse is located on the Mayport Naval Air Station. The tower remains in good condition, but it is closed to the public. Access to the base is only granted to those who possess military identification, or who are “sponsored” by someone with military identification. When we visited the lighthouse, we made every effort to gain access to the base but were unsuccessful. If you were going to be in the area, I would recommend that you try and obtain a pass to enter the base to see the light. Contact Public Affairs, Mayport Naval Air Station, PO BOX 280032, Mayport FL. or call (904) 270-5226.