The Tallest Lighthouse in South Carolina Is a Towering 161-Foot Behemoth

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Written by Claire Wilson

Updated: July 25, 2023

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The first lighthouse on record is the Lighthouse of Alexandria on the island of Pharos. It guided sailors safely in and out of the harbor in Alexandria, Egypt. In fact, the Lighthouse of Alexandria is so spectacular that it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Civilizations continue to utilize lighthouses for navigation, even today. For instance, the tallest lighthouse in South Carolina, the Morris Island Lighthouse, still stands south of Charleston Harbor. 

Though South Carolina decommissioned the Morris Island Lighthouse in 1962, the Sullivans Island Lighthouse (also known as the Charleston Light) replaced it. Despite the decommission and recent damage by Hurricane Hugo, the Morris Island Lighthouse is still the tallest lighthouse in South Carolina.

Location of the Tallest Lighthouse in South Carolina

Although you cannot enter the lighthouse, you can get a good view of it from Folly Island.

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The Morris Island Lighthouse is an impressive 161-foot behemoth that stands on Morris Island in South Carolina. It’s positioned south of Charleston Harbor and northeast of Folly Island. While there are many beautiful lighthouses in South Carolina, the Morris Island Lighthouse is the tallest.

Although you cannot enter the lighthouse, you can get a good view of it from Folly Island. For a more up-close view, you can observe the Morris Island Lighthouse by boat, but be sure that you go when there is high tide, as it is very easy to run aground around this lighthouse.

Composition of the Morris Island Lighthouse

The Morris Island Lighthouse’s base is comprised of concrete with timber piling. The timber piling presents a few complications for the restoration efforts of the Morris Island Lighthouse. Organisms and decay badly damage the timber pilings, but replacing the entire foundation of the lighthouse is costly. Wood preserving methods weren’t widespread until 1832 in England, and the first treatment plant didn’t appear in the United States until 1848, and the plant mostly treated railroad ties.

The rest of the tower is composed of dressed stone. Dressed stone refers to quarry rocks that have been worked into the shape and size required. Hammers, chisels, picks, and axes are all tools used for fashioning this stone at the time.

History of the Tallest Lighthouse in South Carolina

In 1670, about 200 Europeans founded Charles Town, and in 1673, records show that settlers used a raised metal pan filled with pitch to help with navigation on Morris Island. At night, settlers would light the pitch and use the illumination to guide ships.

It wasn’t until 1767 that South Carolina constructed a permanent 42-foot lighthouse on Morris Island to guide ships into Charleston Harbor. In 1862, however, Confederates destroyed the lighthouse to prevent Union troops from utilizing it.

In 1876, South Carolinians rebuilt the lighthouse, and in 1938, they upgraded the Morris Island Lighthouse to an acetylene gas illumination system. This made the Morris Island Lighthouse fully automatic and reliable.

Decommissioned in 1962, the Charleston Light Lighthouse replaced the Morris Island Lighthouse. However, since 1999, Save The Light, Inc. has been working hard to restore the lighthouse and fix the erosion around it so that it may be preserved as an important historical marker of South Carolina’s past.

Wildlife Found By the Morris Island Lighthouse

Because of Morris Island’s coastal terrain, many types of aquatic and forest creatures call the area home. In fact, you may even discover sharks’ teeth and fossils along the shoreline. Here are three animals you may spot during your visit:

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle

As they are a threatened species, many conservation groups and the City of Folly Beach work to educate residents and visitors to protect the turtles’ popular nesting site. 

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Named for their broad, firm heads, a loggerhead sea turtle’s bite force is almost 500 pounds. This jaw strength is designed for cracking crabs, mollusks, and conchs for food. While hatchlings start off as omnivores, adult loggerheads are exclusively carnivorous. These turtles stick to feeding in coastal bays and estuaries, as well as in shallow water along the ocean’s continental shelves.

Adult loggerhead sea turtles can weigh 200-350 pounds and grow up to 2.5-3.5 feet in length. Although it is not exactly known how long loggerheads live, it is estimated that their typical lifespan is 70 years.

Females travel thousands of miles to lay their eggs on the same beach from which they themselves hatched. And Folly Island is a vast nesting ground for loggerhead sea turtles. Nesting season is between the beginning of May through the end of October. Because they are a threatened species, many conservation groups and the City of Folly Beach work to educate residents and visitors to protect this popular nesting site. 

No artificial lights are allowed on the beach, and city officials discourage beachfront homes from using outdoor artificial lights. Loggerhead hatchlings navigate back to the ocean with the help of the light from the moon and stars reflecting off the water. As a result, the city outlaws artificial lights on the beach, as these lights disorient the hatchlings and draw them away from their ocean destination.

Scarlet Tanager

Birds that look like cardinals: Scarlet Tanager

The scarlet tanager lacks the distinctive black face mask the

northern cardinal

exhibits.

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There’s no mistaking a male scarlet tanager. Its vibrant red body, highlighted by jet-black wings and tail feathers, makes it easy to spot among the trees. The females, however, have a yellow-green coloration with dark-toned wings.

Scarlet tanagers’ life expectancy is 10 years, but one male tanager banded in 1990 in Pennsylvania lived to be 11 years and 11 months old. Scarlet tanagers are insectivores and use a technique called “sallying” to catch food. Sallying is when a bird bursts forth to catch flying insects. Scarlet tanagers mostly eat bees, wasps, moths, or dragonflies. However, if they snare insects with stingers, scarlet tanagers will rake it across a branch, removing the stinger before consumption.

Although partial to flying insects, scarlet tanagers will also take advantage of any fruit or ground creatures available, such as snails, spiders, or earthworms. In fact, scarlet tanagers can walk vertically up a tree trunk to feel around for insects. 

Scarlet tanagers prefer mature, deciduous forests. Well-established forests have reliable populations of diverse insects, which these insectivorous birds devour. The thick canopy also gives the scarlet tanagers better safety and protection from certain predators than younger forests with diminutive trees.  

North American Porcupine

North American porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, Canadian porcupine

During the winter months, porcupines scale trees to feed on evergreen needles and the inner bark of a tree.

©iStock.com/Sandra Mitchell

Covered in over 30,000 quills, the hollow quills are about two to three inches long on a North American porcupine. Despite what cartoons would have us believe, porcupines cannot shoot or throw their quills when they feel threatened. However, the quills are lightly attached, so when a porcupine lashes its tail at a predator, quills easily detach and penetrate the predator’s skin. Also, if you don’t remove it immediately, a quill can work its way deeper into the skin at about 1 mm per hour.

While it may not seem like it, porcupines are excellent swimmers and climbers. During the winter months, porcupines scale trees to feed on evergreen needles and the inner bark of a tree. When summer comes, porcupines seek out berries, seeds, and leaves to eat.

Where is the Tallest Lighthouse in South Carolina Located on a Map?

While you may not go inside the Morris Island Lighthouse, you can get a good view of it from Morris or Folly Island. There has been quite a bit of erosion around the lighthouse itself, so visiting it by boat may be the best option if you would like a closer view. All in all, this 161-foot behemoth is an excellent destination rich with history and wildlife.

Here is the Morris Island Lighthouse on a map:


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About the Author

Claire Wilson is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, travel, and historic places and landmarks. Claire holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Wisconsin, Claire enjoys hiking, visiting parks, and biking nature trails.

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