Tybee Island Light Station

 

The importance of a lighthouse on Tybee Island was understood from the earliest days of establishing the British colony of Georgia in 1733. Under the direction of Noble Jones of Wormsloe Plantation, work began on the first lighthouse built on Tybee Island. Completed in 1736 and made of wood, the first lighthouse stood ninety feet tall and was reported to be the tallest building of its kind in America.

Unfortunately, the first Tybee lighthouse was constructed too close to the shore and was threatened by beach erosion. Work began on a new lighthouse just before a severe storm washed the first one away in August of 1741. A new stone and wood tower was completed in March of 1742. A thirty-foot flagpole was added to the ninety-foot tower making the signal one hundred and twenty four feet tall. According To General Oglethorpe, the structure "was much the best building of its kind."

The second Tybee lighthouse, like the first one was constructed too close to the Atlantic Ocean and was threatened with destruction. In 1768, a third lighthouse was built. A site further away from the ocean was selected and the third Tybee Lighthouse built of brick with interior wooden stairs and landings was completed in 1773 and stood one hundred feet tall. In 1790, the United States Lighthouse Establishment operated the Tybee Lighthouse.

In 1857, a second order (eight foot tall) Fresnel lense was installed in the lantern room of the lighthouse. The lens greatly increased the effectiveness of the light with the prism. The light produced was so brilliant and so concerned the Confederates at Fort Pulaski in 1861, that volunteers were sent over to burn the wooden stairs and landings in the Lighthouse to prevent its use by approaching Federal forces. The Union troops, which occupied Tybee Island, repaired the damage and used the tower to watch rebel forces at Fort Pulaski until its surrender in 1862.

In 1866, a new brick and cast iron lighthouse for Tybee was authorized. The lower sixty feet of the 1773 Tybee Light were used as the foundation of the fourth Tybee Light. Ninety-four feet were added and a nine-foot tall First Order Fresnel lends was installed. The Light was one hundred and fifty-four feet tall, was re-classified as a major aid to navigation, and required three keepers to operate the light station. The new light was displayed for the first time on October 1, 1867 and could be seen for over eighteen miles out to sea.

In 1933, the fuel for the lighthouse was converted from kerosene to electricity and there was no longer a need for three keepers at the Tybee Island Lighthouse, and George Jackson became the only lighthouse keeper at Tybee. In 1939, the United States Coast Guard took over the operation of America's Lighthouses and occupied Tybee Light Station until 1987 when the age and increased cost of maintaining the Tybee Light Station forced the Coast Guard to relocate to Cockspur Island.

The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America's most intact Light stations, having all of its historic support buildings still on its five-acre site. The Head keeper's and first Assistant Keeper's house originally exhibited a unique style of architecture known as "stick style." The ornate trim and contrasting vertical and horizontal siding has been covered up by Coast Guard renovations. The Tybee Island Historical Society has begun a restoration campaign, which will return the entire light station to its historic early 20th century character.

The Tybee Island Lighthouse is opened to the public six days a week. Visitors will enjoy the walk around the site and up into the lighthouse to get a birds-eye view of Tybee Island, Georgia.


TYBEE MAIN PAGE

Text taken from a pamphlet published by the Tybee Island Historical Society