Documented references tell us the first brick tower, used as a daymark, was built on Cockspur Island between March 1837 and November 1839. In 1848, John Norris, a noted New York architect, was contracted to supervise construction of an illuminated station.
Norris's duties were to "repair, alter, and put up lanterns and lights on Cockspur Island...and to erect a suitable keeper's house." This first tower had a focal plane 25' above sea level. The beacon housed a fixed white light emanating from five lamps with 14" reflectors visible for nine miles.
The structure was destroyed by a hurricane in 1854 and rebuilt and enlarged on the same foundation the following year. At the start of the American Civil War, the light was temporarily extinguished. On April 10, 1862, Union forces in eleven batteries stretching along the beach at Tybee Island, started a long range bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Thirty-six guns participated in a thirty-hour siege of the fort with the Cockspur Lighthouse in direct line of fire.
Following the surrender of Fort Pulaski on April 11, 1862, the little beacon miraculously only suffered minor damage. Theories abound as to why the tower escaped destruction. One theory suggests to effectively hit the Fort walls approximately 1,500 yards distant, Union artillerists had to fire shots at a high angle, thus passing over the tower. This strategy, coupled with the short duration of battle could explain why the tower was spared. Soon after war's end, April 25, 1866, the beacon was relit and painted white for use as a daymark.
Hurricanes plagued the Cockspur Lighthouse. On August 27, 1881, a massive storm struck Cockspur Island, causing water to rise 23' above sea level. The storm surge filled the lighthouse interior and destroyed the Keeper's residence.
Man, not nature, extinguished the lighthouse. To accommodate large freighters, the increasingly busy Savannah port routed vessels to the deeper, more navigable North Channel. Effective June 1, 1909, the beacon light was snuffed.
As the threat to the beacon by salvage crews and other private interests grew, the National Park Service looked into the acquisition of the light. On August 14, 1958, by presidential proclamation, the Cockspur Lighthouse was transferred from the United States Coast Guard to the National Park Service.
The National Park Service is dedicated to the preservation of this historic marker. The lighthouse remains open to the public, though access is limited by the terrain of Cockspur Island.
We painted this lighthouse in one of my painting classes recently. I demo in acrylics because that's what they use. Sometimes I'll finish the painting at home in oils and that's how this painting happened.
Cockspur Island Lighthouse
11"x 14"oil on canvas