Back Yard Field Trips – Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

This is the second of what I call back yard field trips…places you visit that are close to where you live.  The first one was The Sugar Mill Gardens in a post titled Something For Everyone. I have been wanting to visit the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse for some time but have put it off because Rick’s knees can’t handle the climb. Today, Rick is busy painting cars and this seemed like a perfect time for a solo field trip to the lighthouse.

The facility consists of three lighthouse keeper’s homes (each one is a museum exhibit), the lighthouse and the grounds. I decided to climb the lighthouse first since I was certain it would be the most strenuous part of the trip. One thing that I felt was a huge drawback was that no containers are allowed into the complex, even water. You must get water in the gift shop before heading out. I had to take several rest breaks on landings during my ascent.  Not only was my breathing labored, I was sweating and weak in the knees. I was feeling the lack of water and in the future…I will smuggle water with me for safety reasons. Eighty degrees outside is much hotter inside a lighthouse than out in the open air. It made me wonder how the lighthouse keeper did this every day, no matter the temperature or weather. I got to the top and was disappointed that they had blocked off the lens as I had been looking forward to photographing the lens and gears. But, another smaller girl squeezed up to the opening and by using the viewing mirror, she took a few shots of it from below.

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As I got to the top I joyously embraced the cool breeze as it washed my skin and dried my stinky sweat…really! Then I took a few shots of the awesome view. I laughed to see that there were about sixty boats that had anchored at or near a couple of sand bars where the Halifax River intersected with the bay, leading to the ocean. Images of tailgate parties danced through my mind and I could almost hear the shouting of children, playing of music and drinking beer…all the way up here.  There seemed to be more people on that sand bar than on the Atlantic Ocean beach on the opposite side of the inlet.

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Thankfully, the climb down was much easier but I made sure to hold tight to the railing all the way down. I had no intention of having a mishap on a staircase…and of course I took the obligatory photo of the staircase as well as one from the foot of the lighthouse.

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The museum exhibits were very interesting and included early fishing and lighthouse lodging which was set up near lighthouses so fishermen had a warm place to sleep at night. There was another whole section on sea rescues, a demo on how a lighthouse emits light, vintage racing on the beach and in the early 1900s it was common to use the beach as a landing strip. Of course, there was one house that was left in tact as the lighthouse keeper’s residence with a wall of all the light house keepers and their children. One guy had so many children, they opened a school on the inlet. Before that, the kids took a ferry to the mainland.

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Best of all…one building is called the lens-room and it is filled with lenses…just beautiful.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t capture the amazing reflections as the light was at the wrong angle but even so…these are beautiful to look at. If you click on the image, you will get a better idea of what I am talking about.

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Not only were the lenses magnificent, the gears were simply stunning./ I knew Rick would have enjoyed seeing them. And I was delighted to find a small replica of the very first lighthouse, The Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Here is a 2 minute video from the history channel that details her marvel.


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The grounds are very nicely kept but were surrounded by signs that said, “keep off the grass”. Drats! The best views of the lighthouse were going to be at the opposite side of the large grassy area. Just as I was passing by a wrecked dinghy on display I found it…Hooray, a little path, part of a nature walk that leads to the other side.  One part of the path paralleled the fence that bordered the grounds so on the right was a beautifully manicured area and on the left were the dense dune shrubs. I admit, I looked over my shoulder more than once to make sure there wasn’t a snake or alligator nearby…and I did get some great shots of the lighthouse!

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Overall, the trip was great!  I think I’ll bring Rick back the next time, we’ll just skip climbing the lighthouse.  There are several restaurants nearby…one is just across the street, we’ll stop for lunch on the way down. I was also pleased that my photography skills are improving. The only editing I did was to crop noise out of the picture and very few needed that, at least from this batch.

For those of you, like me, who get curious about the historical aspects of the area…

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Ponce Inlet is a small town named after the Spanish explorer Ponce deLeon who visited there. About fifty years later, more pioneers explored the area and found the area so heavily infested with Mosquitoes that they changed the name to Mosquito Inlet.

The first lighthouse was actually built in 1835 by a man known to cut corners.  In fact, during the first year it was damaged by a huge storm and a month after that it was attacked by Indians during the Seminole Indian War. By the end of the Second Seminole War, the lighthouse had fallen into the sea. Most surprisingly…it had never been lit.

During the Civil War, Mosquito Inlet became an important entry point for the Confederates who sent boats called blockade runners to smuggle weapons and supplies up the Halifax River. After the war, the area continued to thrive and the new lighthouse was built and lit for the very first time on Nov. 1, 1887. It was 175 feet tall and could be seen almost 18 miles to sea. It was and still is one of the largest lighthouse stations in the country.

By the 1900s the area was booming and investors bought large tracts of land along the river hoping to entice people to the area…they called it Daytona (now Daytona Beach). During my genealogy research I discovered my great grandfather did buy a house in Daytona in 1916. As the area became even more populated, the name Mosquito Inlet was changed back to Ponce Inlet.

The lighthouse remained a manned lighthouse until the early 1950s when it was turned over to the Coast Guard who had the light automated. By the 1970s it had fallen into such disrepair, having been replaced by another station in the neighboring city New Smyrna, it was turned over to the city of Ponce Inlet as surplus property. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association was founded in 1972 to assist the town in the restoration and management of the historic Ponce Inlet Light Station. In 1982 a full restoration was done and the Light Station was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998 and continues to operate as an active aid to navigation to this day.

This was an excellent field trip and I am so happy they restored the lighthouse!

Cool Lighthouse Facts
  • The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse stands 175 feet tall and is the tallest lighthouse in Florida.
  • There are 203 steps to the observation (gallery) deck and 213 steps to the Lantern Room.
  • The Ponce Inlet Light Station is one of only 12 lighthouses in the country to have earned the prestigious designation as a National Historic Landmark.
  • The Lighthouse originally housed the fixed (non-blinking) 1st order Fresnel lens now on display in the Lens Exhibit Building.
  • The beacon at the top of the tower flashes six times in 15 seconds followed by a 15 seconds eclipse.
  • The tower’s light can be seen for more than 18 nautical miles out to sea.
  • The Ponce Inlet Light Station will celebrate its 127th Anniversary on November 1, 2014.
  • The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is painted venetian red because the Lighthouse Inspector thought is was too beautiful to paint when it was completed in 1887.