Having recently enjoyed early retirement in July of 2003, I’m always on the lookout for new things to experience, due to my “freer” status as a retiree and all those weekdays available to me now. That winter, in 2004, during a typically cold, New Jersey February, I decided to go on a “lighthouse hunting” expedition. I checked the Internet for lighthouses on the East Coast open in the winter months, and discovered South Carolina was the northernmost of the Southern states to have lighthouses open in winter-then Georgia, and Florida. Bingo! I packed my trusty 1986 Chevy Celebrity (which had well over 300, 000 miles on it at the time — but that’s another story), kissed my dear wife Marilyn goodbye, and headed out, the spirit of adventure running high in my blood. The lighthouses of the South awaited me, just over the horizon!
Though there are many stories to tell, I’d like to focus one in particular-a little known lighthouse in Georgia. Near Tybee Island, just off Fort Pulaski, lies a small spit of land known as Cockspur Island, because it juts out like-you guessed it-the spur on a rooster’s (cock’s) leg. I knew from my research, that there was a light there, but accessible only by boat. On my way back from visiting the Tybee Island Light, I first stopped at a local marina nearby to see if I could hustle up a boat ride to the little white lighthouse. No one was immediately available, so I left with the thought of heading for Savannah, to see if I could track down the Old Harbor Lighthouse, which was the next stop on my itinerary.
But, as serendipity would have it, I decided to make a right turn, just before crossing the Lazareto Bridge. I followed the dirt road down to a small marina, named Walsh’s Docks. The place seemed deserted, save for one fellow in gumboots, working with a shovel. I parked and walked down to the docks, but couldn’t find a single soul among the boats, so I walked over to the man I saw on the way in and mentioned I was looking for a ride out to the Cockspur Island Light. It turned out he was the Mr. Walsh of Walsh’s Docks and he said, as matter-of-fact as you please, that that he’d take me out to the lighthouse. Right then and there, he dropped his shovel and we headed to his boat!
He started up the diesel engine and we headed out the quarter-mile or so to Cockspur Island. Mr. Walsh and I talked about the weather, tides, fishing, and cormorants as we drew nearer to the island. Cockspur Light was once used to guide the fishing and shrimp boats into the inlet but, with modern radio and Loran equipment, it’s no longer needed. Nevertheless, I’ll bet the local fisherman look eagerly for this little white sentinel on their way home at the end of a long day. I asked if I was possible to walk to the lighthouse and Mr. Walsh nodded, saying it was-if you didn’t mind sinking in mud up to you armpits. Ooo-kay then!
We got up nice and close to the little lighthouse and I snapped off quite a few shots that filled the viewfinder. The little lighthouse is, sadly, abandoned. But the Parks Department goes out every now and again to slap a coat of whitewash paint on it. At one time, there was a small building (perhaps an oil house) next to the lighthouse but it’s now long gone, probably not as well made as its adjoining beacon. From what I could see, the brickwork looks sound, as does the railing around the lantern room. One of the windows seems to be missing its mullions, and the door is either folded along the inside wall, or missing entirely. There’s no telling, either, how much unseen damage there is.
Mr. Walsh made a few passes, finally asking if I had enough photos. I said I did, and we headed back to the dock, leaving the tiny, once-valued, beacon in our wake. I can only hope that it finds a group of friends willing to restore it and, perhaps, cause its light to shine again.
When we got back, Mr. Walsh said the trip would cost whatever I thought fair. I gave him some cash to cover the cost of his diesel fuel, shook his hand, and was on my way. As I crossed the Lazareto Bridge, headed for Savannah, I cast a glance at the little white lighthouse on Cockspur Island. I felt like I was saying goodbye to a new friend.
This story appeared in the
October 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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