A nearly 150-year-old lighthouse in the Florida Keys is about to get a major restoration thanks to a community-based organization committed to its preservation.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland recently approved a recommendation from the National Park Service that Friends of the Pool Inc. be granted ownership of Alligator Reef Lighthouse under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, an Associated Press story reports.
The non-profit organization is based in Islamorada, Florida. The lighthouse is 4 nautical miles offshore from Islamorada, a village made up of six of the Florida Keys, approximately halfway between Miami and Key West.
“Alligator Reef Lighthouse has stood since 1873, and is an important part of Islamorada’s history,” project organizer Rob Dixon said in the AP article. “It’s our Statue of Liberty and needs to be saved.”
Friends of the Pool expects the restoration project will take 5 to 7 years — at a cost of up to $9 million, Dixon explains.
A Historic Namesake
Alligator Reef Lighthouse is named after the USS Alligator, a U.S. Navy schooner that ran aground at Alligator Reef in 1822, an Atlas Obscura entry reports.
The USS Alligator wasn’t the only ship to run aground in the area. In fact, there were so many shipwrecks in the area that Alligator Reef Lighthouse was built 148 years ago to warn mariners of the underwater hazards.
“The freestanding rig and its lantern cost $185,000 at the time, an amount equal to over $3,750,000 in today’s dollars,” Atlas Obscura explains. “The structure required 12-inch-thick iron pilings to support it, slammed into 10 feet of coral by a specialized hammer that weighed (literally) a ton.”
The lighthouse is, as you would expect, popular with lighthouse lovers. However, with an average depth of 20 feet, Alligator Reef is a paradise for anyone who enjoys snorkeling and scuba diving. Those divers can see the reef, spiny lobsters, parrotfish, barracuda, and a number of shipwrecks — including the USS Alligator.
A Worthwhile Undertaking
The project to save the lighthouse was first started by Larry Herlth, a metal artisan in Islamorada who created detailed replicas of Alligator Reef Lighthouse and other lighthouses and beacons in the Keys, a CBS 4 Miami article reports. Herlth has even been nicknamed “Lighthouse Larry” due to his passion for restoring Alligator Reef Lighthouse.
“I can’t imagine Islamorada without the lighthouse because I grew up here, enjoying the sights and water all my life,” Herlth says in the article. “A lot of people feel the same way. It’s definitely an emotional piece of our history.”
Then again, the lighthouse’s restoration isn’t just about preserving a local landmark.
“The six lighthouses off the Florida Keys are the biggest collection of iron-piling lighthouses anywhere in the world,” said Herlth. “The history is just phenomenal.”
Know Before You Go
Alligator Reef Lighthouse is 4 nautical miles offshore from Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Islamorada, located halfway between Miami and Key West, is about a 90-minute drive from either.
If you’d like to visit, be sure to read “How To Spend An Amazing Day In Islamorada, Florida.” You can also find tips for places to stay, things to do, and restaurants to visit in our Florida Keys and Florida coverage.