Located on Key Biscayne, the Florida Cape Florida Lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in the Miami-Dade county of the state. The initial structure was built in 1825, the lighthouse has been damaged and rebuilt at numerous times throughout its lifetime. Today, Cape Florida Lighthouse stands in the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, the park is named for a newspaper editor who led the campaign to save the light after it was extinguished in 1878.
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Florida was named by explorer Ponce de Leon during the first expedition to Florida by the Spanish in 1513. The Atlantic waters around the Cape became the hunting ground of pirates, and an escape route for escaped slaves, until the Florida Cape Florida Lighthouse was constructed and opened in 1825. Initial plans for the lighthouse were drawn up by Samuel B. Lincoln of Boston.
The light was constructed by Noah Humphreys, as a 65 feet tall tower with a wooden staircase. On July 23rd 1836 the tower was damaged by a fire, after coming under attack during the Second Seminole War, an attempt to repair the tower in 1837 was abandoned because of the tensions still evident in the area.
Reconstruction finally took place in 1847, with a 109 step iron staircase installed to replace the earlier wooden structure. Further improvements, (including raising the height of the tower to 95 feet) were completed after an 1851 survey of the lighthouses in the region. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the light was damaged by Confederate supporters to stop Union soldiers using the light as a navigational tool. After its repair following the Civil War, Cape Florida Lighthouse was extinguished in 1878 following the building of the Fowey Reefs Lighthouse off the Cape Florida coastline.
Attempts had been made to declare the Florida Cape Florida Lighthouse a national monument since it was extinguished in 1878, these attempts were not successful. In 1966, the state cabinet of Florida bought the lighthouse and the surrounding coastline, for the purpose of creating a Florida State Park. Prior to the area becoming a state park, the beachfront was brought to within ten feet of the light by erosion. Because the beachfront had eroded so badly the light was lit again on July 4th, 1978. Hurricane Andrew of 1992 damaged the light, with repairs and rebuilding allowing the lighthouse to reopen in 1996.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free guided tours of the Florida Cape Florida Lighthouse taking place daily from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Replicas of the original buildings that stood on the site have been constructed, including the lighthouse keeper’s lodgings. Displays and information are held in the building, including information on the Florida Cape Florida Lighthouse and the Native Americans from the region.