Crossing the causeway onto Sanibel Island, your attention is immediately directed to the historic Sanibel lighthouse, which marks the eastern tip of the island. Although it’s not the most elegantly designed lighthouse, it is a well recognized symbol of quaint Sanibel Island and a historical landmark on the Gulf of Mexico.
The Sanibel lighthouse is the first on Florida’s Gulf Coast that is north of Key West. It was built in 1884 to help guide ships crossing the Gulf waters to reach the Punta Rassa shipping port.
For years, Sanibel residents petitioned for a lighthouse but saw no support from Congress until 1883, when the funds were finally approved. Within three months the foundation for the lighthouse structure was completed, however, work was halted when the ship carrying the ironwork for the tower sank just two miles from Sanibel’s shoreline (true story!). Luckily, a crew of hard-hat divers from Key West were able to recover all but two pieces of the tower, and work continued on the 98ft tall structure.
In August of 1884, the lighthouse was lit by it’s first keeper, Dudley Richardson. Two in-keeper houses were built along with the lighthouse, and a number of keepers have had a hand in operating the lighthouse since its beginning. In it’s early days, the lighthouse was lit with kerosene and had to be under constant surveillance. The light was converted to acetylene gas in 1923, and later became automated in 1949.
When the causeway was built in 1962, the lighthouse was electrified by the US Coast Guard. A beacon replaced the original lens, which was donated to the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village and is currently on display. In 1974, the Sanibel lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it has become one of the greatest tourist attractions on the island.
Most of the Sanibel Lighthouse property is now owned by the City of Sanibel, who works to preserve its historical look and feel. The area surrounding the lighthouse is a popular beach location for visitors and residents of the east end of the island. If you haven’t yet visited the lighthouse at Lighthouse Beach, next time you cross onto Sanibel, take a left at the four-way stop sign, then follow the road to the end and experience the history of the Sanibel lighthouse for yourself!