St Simons Island is a popular spot for history buffs, sightseers, or simply those in search of a little time outdoors. An undisputed gem of the Georgia coast is St. Simons Island lighthouse. As one of only five remaining lighthouse towers in the state, it remains an active navigational aid for boats traversing the St. Simons Sound.
No trip to St. Simons is complete without a visit. Let’s look at the history of this Golden Isles landmark, as well as why it’s worth checking out during your next trip to our island.
The History of the Original Lighthouse
In 1804, John Couper, a plantation owner on St. Simons Island, deeded four acres of his land to the federal government for the construction of the first lighthouse. James Gould of Massachusetts was hired in 1807 to design and build the lighthouse and a one-story residence.
The original plans for the lighthouse specified the use of hard brick, but due to economic restraints, most of the structure used tabby — a mixture of oyster shell, sand, lime, and water. Oil lamps were suspended on iron chains in the lantern, and the Fresnel lens cast its beam 23 miles out to sea.
In 1810, President James Madison appointed Gould to serve as the first keeper with an annual salary of $400.
The Second Lighthouse
As Confederate troops retreated to aid in the defense of Savannah during the Civil War, the Union Army began to invade the barrier island. To avoid supplying aid to Union troops, Confederate forces destroyed James Gould’s beloved lighthouse on their departure. After the war, the government decided that a replacement tower was warranted.
Georgia architect Charles Cluskey was assigned the task of designing and building a new lighthouse and keeper’s house on St. Simons Island. The current lighthouse and “Keeper’s Dwelling” were completed in 1872. The 104-foot, round brick tower is 21 feet in diameter at the base, tapering to 10 feet in diameter at the base of the gallery above. It stands beside the two-story, nine-room Victorian home for the keeper and boasts classic Victorian design elements such as cast iron window moldings.
The original Fresnel lens was lost in the aftermath of the war, but a new, third-order lens was installed to guide ships safely through the St. Simons Sound. The fixed lens is orbited by four flash panels that provide bright, alternating red and white flashes once per minute.
A speaking tube was installed a few years later, allowing for communication between the tower and the dwelling. A 9′ X 11′ brick oil house was constructed next to the lighthouse in 1890 to store oil drums, but the light was converted from kerosene to electricity in 1934, eliminating the need for oil storage, and soon — the need for an on-site lighthouse keeper. The station was automated in the 1950s.
Today’s St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum
The Keeper’s Dwelling housed lighthouse keepers and their families until the station was automated. In 1972, Glynn County and the Coastal Georgia Historical Society took over the management and restoration of the keeper’s house, opening it to the public as a museum, gift shop, and visitor’s center a few years later.
In 1984, the tower was opened to guests, allowing climbers to access the 129-step climb to the top of the lighthouse for incredible panoramic views. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, ownership of St. Simons Lighthouse was officially transferred to the Coastal Georgia Historical Society in 2004. The light continues to be an active aid to navigation maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Plan Your Visit
- Website: https://www.coastalgeorgiahistory.org/visit/st-simons-lighthouse-museum/
- Getting There: From Brunswick on the mainland, cross F.J. Torras Causeway to access St. Simons Island. Go right on King’s Way to Ocean Boulevard. At Mallery Street, continue to 12th Street. Turn right onto Beachview Dr and proceed to the St. Simons Lighthouse and Museum. Parking is available on-site.
- Location: 610 Beachview Drive, Saint Simons Island, Georgia 31522
- Hours: Monday – Saturday 10 am – 5 pm; Sunday 12 pm – 5 pm. Tickets are sold until 4:30 pm each day and can be purchased from A.W. Jones Heritage Center.
- Pricing: $12 per adult, $6 for ages 6 – 12, and a $2 Military discount with ID. Children under six and Coastal Georgia Historical Society members are admitted free of charge
This beloved landmark and maritime historic site currently features the lighthouse, Keeper’s Dwelling, oil house, and a Victorian gazebo. The Keeper’s Dwelling is now the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum, housing exhibits of artifacts, photographs, and interactive learning elements for all ages, including period furnishings and decor in the second-floor rooms.
The keeper’s cottage is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is perfectly set up to help you imagine yourself back in the 1900s when the lighthouse keeper and his family lived and worked there. Thankfully, there’s electricity and plumbing now, so your visit to learn about American lighthouse history will be a comfortable one. Visitors can also discover everything they could ever want to know about the development of lighthouse technology — from the original lighthouse right through to the modern day.
Rumor has it that the lighthouse is haunted by Frederick Osborne, a 19th-century lightkeeper who was killed there. If you see any flickering lights or odd goings-on — that could be why!
Other Sites of Historical Interest
If history is of interest to you, St Simons Island is a great place for you to visit. Don’t miss the Home Front Museum where you can learn all about Georgia’s contribution during World War II. During a visit, you can test your skills as a plane spotter, train to direct fighter pilots and build a Liberty ship. The galleries and interactives are located in a historical coast guard station, which is worth a visit in itself to see a classic example of 1930s Georgian architecture.
Don’t forget to pick up a souvenir for yourself or a loved one back home. The Museum Store is run by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society and is packed full of keepsakes, collectibles, clothing, and decorative items.
For an easy way to see many of St. Simons Island’s best sights, opt for a guided tour aboard a trolley!
A Modern-Day Adventure into St Simons Fascinating Past
There’s so much to see and do on St Simons Island that visitors of all ages will love their time here. Don’t miss the historic lighthouse and be sure to book your vacation rental for a comfortable and cozy place to relax after a fun day of exploration.