TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - National Lighthouse Day is Friday, which might not be a big deal in a lot of the country. But around the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, it’s worth noting because we’re fortunate to have some notable beacons along our coast.
We have a wide variety of lighthouses along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. There are five in South Carolina, including Harbour Town. And the lighthouse at Hunting Island stands 130 feet tall. Built in 1859, it had to be rebuilt after the Civil War.
Georgia still has five traditional lighthouses, all with a unique look.
“It was a way that they could bring people into the port and identify the port primarily, so that you knew where you were arriving, your destination,” said Sarah Jones, Tybee Island Historical Society Executive Director.
The mouth to the Savannah River has two of the historic lighthouses in the state. Tybee is the tallest, and Jones has her own description.
“Stoic, I would say stoic. She’s always there, always bright, always shining. The light never gets turned off, the light is always on, twenty-four-seven,” says Jones.
The light is 154 feet above sea level and can be seen 20 miles out in the Atlantic. The smallest lighthouse in the Peach State is only 46 feet tall, sitting at the beginning of the South Channel on Cockspur Island, the route the ships used to take to the port.
“Obviously very important, back in 1837 when the ships coming from the sea saw this big lighthouse, the Tybee Light, they’d turn the corner and then had to have some way to maneuver through the south channel of the Savannah River, so, pretty important little lighthouse,” said Harvey Ferrelle, President of Friends Of Cockspur Island Lighthouse.
Cockspur was decommissioned back in 1909. The current Tybee Lighthouse is a hybrid of the 1773 and 1867 lighthouse, but Jones says under bad conditions, it could still be used for navigation today.
“If you have a power failure, or you’re unfortunate enough to have a power failure on your ship or your boat, you could use Tybee Light, which is a rear range light. What you do when you come in is you line it up with your buoys and the other lights that are out in the river, and when you line those lights up just right, you’re able to stay on course and you’re able to come in at the deepest part of the water so that you don’t hit the shallows,” Jones explained.
Jones went further to add a nontraditional lighthouse to our area. The Savannah Harbor Light was vital in its day. It was built in 1858 and on the bluff above the Savannah River. All these lighthouses are great teachers of history.
“So, thank goodness we have them as a reminder of our past and a reminder of where we are going in the future. I think they all need to be standing at some point to remind future generations of what we were all about before we got GPS or before we got all this fancy high tech stuff. These little lighthouses, boy, you can’t say enough about what they did,” said Ferrelle.
Moving down our coast, there are two lighthouses on Sapelo Island, one on Saint Simons, and one on Cumberland Island.