Photographer: Keith W. Churill

Photographer: Keith W. Churill

Saint Simons Light

St. Simons, GA

Built: 1811, 1872

Construction: Cylindrical, Brick

Status: Active (white, fixed light)

Height: 85 feet / 104 feet

Location: St. Simons, GA. South tip of St. Simons Island

Access: From Interstate 95, take Hwy. 17 to St. Simons Island toll road. Ask for an island map at the toll both. This will give clear directions to the lighthouse.

Photographer: Keith W. Churill

Interest: Located in the Village area of St. Simons, the lighthouse sits as a picturesque guardian of the village. This light stands as one of the most visited and recognizable lighthouses in Georgia. Located by a state archaeologist in 1972, the original lighthouse site is marked and visited by many who have come to know the lighthouse through the book "Lighthouse" by Eugenia Price Published by Bantam House, 1971, it is a historically based novel of James Gould, builder of the first lighthouse, and life on St. Simons Island.

 The First Lighthouse and Keeper's Dwelling (1810)

Lighthouse History: On October 17, 1804, four acres known as "Couper's Point" at the south end of St. Simons island was deeded to the U.S. Federal Government from John Couper for the amount of one dollar. The Treasury Department then hired James Gould of Massachusetts in 1807 to build a lighthouse and a one-story framed residence on this property. Original plans called for the lighthouse to be constructed of  hard brick. For economic reasons, most of the material used in it's construction was a mixture of oyster shell, lime, sand, and water know as "tabby".  The upper 12-1/2 feet was constructed of the northward brick. The 75 foot octagonal tower, exclusive of the lantern, measured 25 feet in diameter at the base, tapering to ten feet at the top and stood upon a foundation that was eight feet thick. An iron lantern room stood atop the tower measuring ten feet high and eight feet in diameter. The beacon was produced by oil lamps suspended on iron chains. The lightstation was constructed as part of colonial Fort St. Simons. Commanded by General James Oglethorpe, the fort was used as a defense against the Spaniards.

In May of 1810, by President Madison appointed James Gould as the first keeper with an annual salary of $400 until his 1837 retirement.

In 1857, a Third-Order, double-convex, Fresnel lens was installed, greatly improving the lighthouse's range of visibility.

To protect St. Simons Sound during the Civil War, the Macon Artillery troops and six field guns were stationed at Fort Brown. In February of 1861, John Couper's son Alexander, wrote his brother, James: "I went down to the Island to the officers at 'Fort Brown' they are comfortably situated in thatched camps. They have built tow angles of eighteen-feet base as a breast work. The Fort lies just west of the lighthouse in a corner of Mr. King's field." (Now the Sea Island Golf Club, this field was part of the Retreat Plantation.)

The blockade of Federal ships and the subsequent invasion of Georgia by Northern troops forced the Confederate evacuation of St. Simons Island in 1862. Prior to leaving, the lighthouse was destroyed.

Photo courtesy of: U.S. Coast Guard

 For the next ten years, ships entering Brunswick harbor used the Retreat Plantation's cotton barn as an aid to navigation, marked on U.S. government maps as "King's Cotton House."

The Second Lighthouse and Keeper's Dwelling (1872)

Lighthouse History: The lighthouse and keeper's dwelling were designed by Charles Cluskey (1805-1871), one of Georgia's most noted architects. Cluskey was a native of Ireland and worked in Georgia between 1830 and 1846 designing Greek revival buildings. He later served as a consultant in Washington, assisting with renovations of the Capital and other public buildings.

Charles Cluskey, along with some of the construction crew, never saw the completion of their work. In 1871, one year before the completion of the new lighthouse, they died of malaria. Official lighthouse keeper records stated in 1874: "This station is very unhealthy, and it is attributed to the stagnant water in several ponds in the vicinity.

Constructed 25 feet from the original lighthouse on a tabby foundation, the completed tower measures 104 feet tall with 129 cast-iron steps leading to the watch room. Fitted with a Third-Order Fresnel lens, it produces a single, white flash every 60 seconds with a visibility range of 21 miles. It's day-mark is white with a black lantern and watch room.

The light keeper's household is of a unique Victorian design and had to be self-sufficient with the exception of basic lighthouse supplies such as fuel, paint, ropes, and lighthouse maintenance equipment. The keeper's dwelling was constructed to be shared with the head keeper, his assistant and their families. The head keeper lived downstairs and the assistant upstairs. A central stairway connected the two households with a tower room connecting the keeper's dwelling to the tower. The dwelling is constructed of Savannah "gray" brick with walls measuring 12 inches thick. Architectural details greatly enhance the appearance of this structure, drawing your eyes up to the tower. Decorative window moldings and acanthus leaves are constructed of cast iron. The floors of the dwelling are of heart pine.

Photographer: Merle Bishop

In 1876, the U.S. Lighthouse Service performed a thorough reconditioning at the lighthouse weather-proofing the roof and walls of the dwelling. A a speaking tube which ran from the watch room to the house dwelling was installed at this time.

This is apparently the only lightstation in which a fatal shooting incident took place between employees of the Lighthouse Service.  On February 29, 1880, tempers flared between the assistant keeper and the head keeper, Frederick Osborne. During the argument, Osborne brandished a pistol and the assistant reached for his shotgun, which was loaded with buckshot. At a distance of nearly 98 feet, the assistant fired, hitting Osborne with four pieces of shot. The assistant then summoned medical assistance and turned himself in to authorities. Frederick Osborne later died from his injuries. The assistant was later acquitted of any wrongdoing.

The wives of later keepers claim to have heard Osborne's footsteps in the tower.

A brick, fire-proof oil house was constructed next to the light in 1890. It measures 9 feet x 11 feet with a capacity of up to 450 five-gallon oil cans.

In the early 1900's, Carl Olaf Svendsen was the head lighthouse keeper. During that time, the dwelling was altered into two separate apartments by removing the central staircase. On the North side, an exterior staircase, stoop, and door were added to give access to the second floor.

In 1924, the kerosene lamp was replaced with an electric aircraft type beacon.

 On June 1, 1939, the lighthouse was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Photographer: Merle Bishop

Photographer: Merle Bishop

In 1954, the lighthouse was completely automated and the last lighthouse keeper, Mr. David O'Hagan, retired. The 1,000 watt mogul lamp is still currently lighting this active aid to navigation. The passageway between the keepers dwelling and the tower was also removed at that time.

Restoration: In 1975, restoration work had the steps, stoop and doorway to the upper apartment removed. The original central stairway was reconstructed returning the keeper's dwelling to it's original configuration.

In 1984, the  Society obtained a lease with the Coast Guard to allow visitor access to the tower. With this lease, the Coastal Georgia Historical Society assumed responsibility for the care and maintenance of the lighthouse. Maintenance of the operational light itself continues under the U.S. Coast Guard.

From 1989-1991, restoration work was done under a major grant from the U.S. Lighthouse Bicentennial Fund. The entire  lightstation was cleaned and repainted and the tower room was reconstructed. A public restroom and ramp for the disabled were also added.


The St. Simons Lighthouse has a breath taking panoramic view of the island and adjacent coastal waters from the parapet. The lighthouse and its classic keeper's cottage is an excellent example of American lighthouse architecture in the South.

Partial information submitted by:Merle Bishop


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