The Cape Florida Lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County.
The Cape Florida Lighthouse is located at the south end of Key Biscayne in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The lighthouse was built in 1825 and guided mariners off Florida’s Coral Reef which starts near Key Biscayne and extends southward to the tip of the Florida Keys at the Dry Tortugas. Florida’s Coral Reef is the only coral reef system in the continental United States.
The lighthouse was originally built at a height of 65 feet but in 1854 the height was elevated to 95 feet and an improved lens was installed. In 1966 the State of Florida purchased the lighthouse along with the tip of Key Biscayne and in 1967 the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park opened including the Cape Florida Lighthouse.
The main entrance to the lighthouse is on a pave stone path from the parking lot to the entrance door. The path is lined with palm trees and native foliage. A second path to the entrance door comes from the keeper’s cottage.
A short distance from the lighthouse is the keeper’s cottage. The cottage shown in the photo below is a replica of the original cottage and is now a museum containing displays depicting early life on the island.
On-again, Off-again Lighthouse History
The history of the Cape Florida Lighthouse has been one of many turbulent interruptions.
Eleven years after opening a group of Seminole Indians attacked the site, burning lighthouse and pillaged the cottage. The lighthouse did not resume operation for several years until the threat of future Indian attacks had subsided.
In 1854 the lighthouse was upgraded and the height was elevated to 95 feet but in 1861 Florida seceded from the Union and the lamp was removed from the lighthouse by Confederate sympathizers, so the lighthouse could not be used to help the Union sailors controlling the surrounding waters.
After the Civil War, the lighthouse was repaired and placed back in service in 1866 but in 1878 the lighthouse was mothballed because the new offshore Fowey Rocks Lighthouse had replaced it.
The lighthouse was originally built 100 feet inland from the shore but over the years the coastline had eroded so much that it now stands only ten (10) feet from the water. Tropical storms had also destroyed the keeper’s cottage and it has been rebuilt by the state park.
One hundred years after Cape Florida Lighthouse was turned off, it was re-lit on July 4, 1978. Unfortunately, in August 1992 Hurricane Andrew caused major damage to the lighthouse and it was once again closed for extensive repairs. The repairs were complete in 1996 in time for Miami’s Centennial Celebration.
The Cape Florida Lighthouse has not had any recent issues and it now sits on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Views from the lighthouse
The lighthouse is open to the public five days a week at 10 A.M. and 1 P.M. but it is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Visitors must climb 109 spiraling steps with narrow spaces and heights to access the viewing level. The climb takes about 10 minutes but the views are nice.
Growing up near the coast, I have always been attracted to lighthouses. Some of the reasons that I am attracted to them is because: I like the symbol that they represent, I like their unique architecture, they have a sense of romance and mystery to them and they are an undeniable representation of coastal communities.
For hundreds of years lighthouses performed an important function to help sailors avoid disaster. With the modern GPS systems lighthouses are functionally obsolete but they are still an important part of our history and every lighthouse has their own stories to tell.
Lighthouses were built to perform one function, shine a light into the darkness for sailors to know that they are nearing land. It is interesting to me that there are so many different designs of lighthouses that all have the same function. Of course, that’s what make visiting lighthouses so much fun. They have different sizes, shapes, heights and colors. Lighthouse in close proximity to each other have different flashing pattern to allow the mariner to identify their location. No two lighthouses are alike. It’s almost like each lighthouse has its individual personality.