When you imagine historic architecture, do you think of lighthouses? There are several beautiful lighthouses in Georgia. The tallest lighthouse in Georgia is the Tybee Island Lighthouse, which stands 144 feet tall. This height makes it the 20th tallest lighthouse in the country. Although it is not the tallest lighthouse in the United States, it is one of the oldest. In fact, what really makes this lighthouse special is that it is one of only seven lighthouses built during the colonial era that is still surviving. Today, the lighthouse stands as a quintessential Tybee Island landmark.
History of Tybee Island Lighthouse in Georgia
The Tybee Island Lighthouse in Georgia is the fourth lighthouse built on its site on the northeast end of Tybee Island on the Atlantic coast.
Phase 1: The First Tower of Tybee Island
The first tower built in this location was constructed from wood at the order of General James Oglethorpe. At the time, Oglethorpe was the Governor of Georgia, the thirteenth colony. Construction began in his order in 1732, with construction completed in 1736. At the time, the tower did not yet have a light. This first structure was destroyed just a few years later by a storm in 1741.
Phase 2: The Tybee Island Tower Rebuilt
The following year, in 1942, a man named Thomas Sumner began the tower’s replacement. This time around, the tower included 1742 using both stone and wood. However, it still had no light. Instead, people placed only a flag pole at the top.
Phase 3: The Tower Becomes a Lighthouse
After a few years, this tower was destroyed by encroaching ocean tides that were eroding the Georgia shoreline. The tower was swept away. The third time around, John Mullryne initiated the erection of a new tower in 1773. This time, the tower reached an incredible 100 feet high. This tower was made of brick and was much studier. This brick base was sturdy enough to last into the present day and is still part of the current lighthouse.
Georgia ratified the Constitution in 1790, and with that, yielded the lighthouse to the domain of the federal government. Originally equipped with reflectors and candles, the lighthouse was upgraded to become lit by oil lamps. This is when the structure also became a true lighthouse.
Eventually, people added a second tower to form a lighthouse range to guide ships entering the nearby Savannah River.
Phase 4: The Lighthouse That Stands Today
The lighthouse that stands today was finally constructed during the aftermath of the Civil War. Reconstructionists built a new tower on top of the old one, raising the height of the lighthouse from 60 feet tall to 154 feet, and equipping it with a first-order lens.
Although construction began in 1866, the project was delayed due to a cholera outbreak in the area. Eventually, a new tower would be constructed on top of the pre-existing tower’s first 60 feet. Though this main tower was damaged by a hurricane in 1871, a new front tower was constructed with iron, and lighthouse keeper lodgings were added. Since the newest version of the tower was constructed out of stone and metal only, it became completely fireproof – and much safer than it was before.
In 1933, the lighthouse was finally electrified, becoming fully automated in 1971. In 1999, the Tybee Island Historical Society began a major restoration project. The Society took over the possession of the lighthouse in 2002 under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, with part of the project including repainting the tower to its black-and-white colors from the early 20th century. Today, the beacon is functional as a navigational aid to mariners and uses its original lens. Visitors may come to the lighthouse site, which still includes keepers’ quarters and auxiliary buildings in addition to the lighthouse tower, and can climb the lighthouse’s 178 steps.
The Legacy of the Tybee Island Lighthouse in Georgia
Today, the Tybee Island Lighthouse has been guiding mariners to safety through the narrow Savannah River for over 285 years. As a historic landmark, this site is one of the most intact light stations in the entire country. Today, visitors can still see all of the original support buildings, in addition to the tower itself, standing on the three-acre site.
Visit the Tybee Island Lighthouse today, and you gain the chance to climb all the way to the top of its 178 steps to see gorgeous 360-degree views of Georgia’s Tybee Island. You can even watch the sunrise or the sunset since the lighthouse allows small groups to enjoy watching the start or end of the day during the summer months.
Throughout the year, you can also mark the seasons and the holidays with special visits to the lighthouse. At Christmastime, enjoy the holiday season by singing carols and sipping hot cider by the ocean, basking in the glow of the historic lighthouse.
Every ticket purchased gives visitors access to the grounds around the lighthouse. Visitors can see how lighthouse keepers lived, in small groundskeeper abodes, or learn about how the three lighthouse keepers operated the lighthouses before it became electrified in 1933 and reduced the workload to only needing one lighthouse keeper.
You could also visit the nearby Tybee Island History Museum, which showcases over 400 years of local history. This dates back to the Native Americans who originally lived on the coastal lands of Georgia. The Tybee Island Museum is just across the street from the lighthouse.
The Tybee Island Lighthouse sits in the picturesque North Beach neighborhood on Tybee Island. When you visit, enjoy the gorgeous homes, nearby restaurants, and beautiful beaches. To act like a true local, ride bikes or rent a golf cart to enjoy the quiet island life.
Visit the Tybee Island Lighthouse and take in the beautiful sights of Georgia’s coasts and learn about this historic building’s legacy. Admission for adults costs $12. Tickets for children aged 6 to 17 and seniors aged 62 and up cost $10. Children aged 5 and under are free. The lighthouse also offers special discounts for groups, military service members, and Girl Scout troops that make reservations in advance.
The lighthouse is open from Wednesday to Monday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Parts of the grounds or buildings may close in the event of adverse weather conditions.
Geographic Location of Tybee Island Lighthouse in Georgia
Tybee Island is a barrier island located in Chatham County on the coast of Georgia. Tybee Island has the distinction of being Georgia’s most eastern geographic point and lies about 18 miles east of the coastal city of Savannah.
As part of Georgia’s Sea Islands, Tybee Island is part of Georgia’s Lower Coastal Plain region. This part of the state is dominated by sandy beaches on the eastern shores and salt marshes on their inner, wester-facing sides. The island itself has a maritime forest ecosystem and freshwater sloughs. Tybee Island is bordered by the Savannah River, which flows from the northern end of the Island into the Atlantic Ocean, and was an original trade route that necessitated the building of the Tybee Island Lighthouse. Lazaretto Creek divides Tybee Island from McQueen Island. Tybee Creek, on the south, separates Tybee Island from the protected wetland area of Little Tybee Island.
Tybee Island is a popular tourist destination and is only home to a few thousand residents who live there year-round.
Wildlife Around Tybee Island Lighthouse
The area surrounding Tybee Island Lighthouse in Georgia is teeming with wildlife. The road you drive from the mainland onto Tybee Island winds through a marshland. Though low tide might make this look dead and barren, when the tide comes in, the water transforms the marsh into a breathtaking sight. In fact, this marshland is never barren. Rather, the water and marshes in Coastal Georgia surrounding Savannah and Tybee Island are full of diverse creatures. The animals that make their home in the waterways of this region include crabs, sea turtles, sharks, jellyfish, and dolphins. However, the marshland and forests also provide a home for alligators, spider crabs, box turtles, horseshoe crabs, diamondback terrapins, corn snakes, and many other creatures.
Many visitors become especially excited at the prospect of witnessing Loggerhead Sea Turtles make their nests and return to the sea. Volunteers with the Tybee Sea Turtle Project have made it their mission to conserve sea turtles from damage by humans. Each morning, volunteers walk Tybee Island’s beaches looking for signs of sea turtles. If they discover a nest, it is roped off to protect it from interference and support as many sea turtles as possible in making their way from the nest to the ocean.
The Tybee National Wildlife Refuge is also a vitally important area for native and migratory birds. Both songbirds and shorebirds find refuge in this habitat at the mouth of the Savannah River.
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