An original artifact of Florida’s Egmont Key Lighthouse has been sent to a lab for preservation and restoration. The object, properly termed a “lighthouse lens pedestal,” consists of a five-foot long cast iron column and a three-foot round flat table that served as the stand for the lighthouse’s five-foot tall glass lens. It served in the Egmont Key lighthouse at the mouth of Tampa Bay from the 1890s until 1944, when the top of the lighthouse was removed for wartime safety and cost reasons.
“It may not look like much right now, but we’re really fortunate it wasn’t destroyed or lost,” said Neil Hurley, one of the volunteers spearheading the project. “Egmont Key Lighthouse is one of the Tampa Bay area’s oldest structures, and quite frankly, it’s miraculous that the lens pedestal has survived.”
The 500-pound lens pedestal was originally manufactured in Paris, France by the Louis Sautter Company in the late 1850s. It probably served at another lighthouse until it, along with a third-order Fresnel lens, was installed in the Egmont Key Lighthouse in the 1890s.
In 1944 the lighthouse needed repairs, but with World War II still going on, the Coast Guard decided to demolish the top 20 feet of the tower and replace it with a concrete cap and a searchlight-like lens.
The old lens pedestal was then discarded in the woods for several years, and then moved to various locations on the island for safekeeping. Despite receiving no other care for more than 60 years, the pedestal is in excellent condition. An effort to find out what happened to the original glass lens that was used in the tower has been unsuccessful so far.
The current Egmont Key Lighthouse was built in 1858 to replace one built ten years earlier. The lighthouse remains an active aid to mariners and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The island is jointly administered as a Florida State Park and a National Wildlife Refuge. It can only be reached by boat or by a passenger ferry, which runs from nearby Fort De Soto State Park. In addition to the lighthouse, the island contains the ruins of a fort from the Spanish American War-era - Fort Dade, wildlife areas, and beautiful beaches.
Funding for the lens pedestal restoration work is being provided by a $2,500 grant from the Florida Lighthouse Association and the Egmont Key Alliance. The Florida Lighthouse Association is a non-profit organization, which works to preserve Florida Lighthouses, while the Egmont Key Alliance is a non-profit focused on assisting Egmont Key State Park.
The Florida State Conservation Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida will do the restoration work, which could take up to one year. The pedestal will be treated to remove salts that have migrated into the metal during its years of outdoor exposure. After treatment, it will be coated and should look just like it did in 1858. Once restored, the lens pedestal will be returned to the lighthouse for display.
“Of course we would really like to see the lighthouse fully restored to its original 1858 appearance,” said Hurley, “but before tackling that big task, there are important projects like this one that just can’t be put off any longer.”
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2013 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.
All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.