Cape Florida

Cape Florida Lighthouse Tower Door Cape Florida Lighthouse Tower Door

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.

Cape Florida Lighthouse

Cape Florida Lighthouse

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.

Approach to Cape Florida Lighthouse

Approach to Cape Florida 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.

Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage

Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage

Once inside the lighthouse, I gazed at the spiral staircase leads to the top and wondered if it was worth the climb.

Inside the Lighthouse

Inside the Lighthouse

Thankfully, I found that the 109 cast iron steps made the climb easy.

One Step at a Time

One Step at a Time

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.

Lowest Lighthouse Window Revealing the Breakwater

Breakwater as Seen Through the Lowest Window

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!

Northern View

Northern View of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park Beach and Miami in the Distance

Southern View

Southern View Including the Keeper's Cottage and Cookhouse

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.

Spotted Eagle Ray

Spotted Eagle Ray

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.



4 thoughts on “Cape Florida

  1. Wow, spectacular photos! I especially love the spotted ray – what clear, beautiful water Florida is blessed with. As you know, this post is special to me because this location is where my dear hubby proposed to me. I never knew the history or visited the cottage, though. I look forward to someday revisiting this special spot and enjoying it again as much as you did!

  2. These pictures are spectacular and have whetted my appetite for a day at the beach. If only I could glide like the Spotted Eagle Ray, through those azure waters. We will definitely need to visit the lighthouse together later this summer. Love you!

  3. Marvelous article, MJ! When are you publishing your book about south Florida? 🙂 I visited a light house on Lake Ontario a couple of years ago. No blue azure waters there. It was very windy with waves splashing over the rocks. They are impressive and beautiful structures from a bygone era.

    • Book about South Florida? You’re too kind. The Great Lakes have some delightful lighthouses. I’m so glad they’ve been preserved for us to enjoy.

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