Key Biscayne is the southernmost barrier island on the United States’ east coast. Tucked on the island’s southern tip is Cape Florida, now secured within Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. On the cape you’ll find one of our nation’s loveliest lighthouses.
Nestled behind coconut palms, the lighthouse hugs the warm waters of Biscayne Bay. Tropical breezes caress its brick walls as it sends out a beacon of welcome to seagoing visitors.
Yet, if you listen closely as your guide unwinds the history of this bucolic scene you’ll know that its conception birthed death and destruction. The first victim perished at sea on his way to construct the lighthouse in 1824. A second contractor, a swindler, constructed a 65 foot tower, but with hollow walls! In 1835 a major hurricane struck the cape leaving the lighthouse and keeper’s house damaged and under three feet of water. The following year, during the Second Seminole War, a band of Indians besieged the lighthouse, burned the keeper’s house and interior of the tower, pillaged the grounds, wounded the caretaker, and killed his elderly assistant. The lighthouse was rebuilt and put back into service in 1847 with a tower extension to its present 95 feet in 1855. Just six years later, the American Civil War began, and in 1861 Confederate sympathizers destroyed the light and lens so that Union soldiers could not benefit from its guiding beam. The final threat to the structure came from the forces of wind and water that washed away 1/4 mile of beach adjacent to the tower. James Deering, International Harvester magnate and owner of Vizcaya, purchased the property in 1913 and arranged for the construction of a concrete foundation and breakers to stabilize the structure and prevent further erosion. Fortunately, the lighthouse endured both devastating hurricanes of 1926 and 1992. Cape Florida Lighthouse was purchased by the State of Florida in 1966 and since then has undergone complete restoration.
Come with me on my visit to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Just off the parking lot, I found a display of vintage lighthouse components. A coconut palm shaded walkway led to the lighthouse.
As I turned right at the end of the walkway, I saw a replica of the light keeper’s house. A tour takes visitors through the house and adjacent cookhouse which is furnished with period furniture.
Once inside the lighthouse, I gazed at the spiral staircase leads to the top and wondered if it was worth the climb.
Thankfully, I found that the 109 cast iron steps made the climb easy.
Two windows let in light giving me a view of the waters of Biscayne Bay. The lighthouse walls are five feet thick at this point.
Several landings along the climb made for a comfortable assent. Once at the top, I mounted the railed walkway that encircles the tower, just below the light. I found the view spectacular!
While enjoying the refreshing sea breeze and tower-top view I happened to look down into the shallows. There a Spotted Eagle Ray glided over the sand.
I think I could have stayed on that balcony all day. With a promise to return, I descended the spiral staircase and as I left the park snapped one parting shot.