Sunday, August 28, 2011

A lighthouse on the proverbial postage stamp

Many lighthouses in the U.S. have endured over time despite the ravages of man and nature. A good example is Sand Island lighthouse in Alabama, located approximately three miles offshore the main entrance to Mobile Bay. The first lighthouse to be constructed on this site in 1830 stood on property totaling more than 400 acres. Since then erosion has stripped away the land surrounding it to less than one acre.

The original lighthouse was replaced in 1837 and again in 1858, when Army engineer Danville Leadbetter supervised construction of a brick conical tower. Topping nearly 200 feet, this lighthouse was the tallest on the Gulf Coast at the time.

During the Civil War, Union soldiers commandeered the lighthouse, using it as a lookout to spy on the nearby Confederate Army. This action miffed a small band of Confederate soldiers, who in 1863 made good on the promise to blow up the lighthouse by igniting 70 pounds of gunpowder at its base. The leader of the group proudly reported its success to Danville Leadbetter, who had become a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army.

A temporary wooden tower was eventually replaced in 1873 by a brick tower 132 feet tall, built on 171 pilings and overlaid with 12 feet of cement. Attempts to stem further erosion began in 1889, when nearly 2,000 tons of granite were deposited at its base, with 6,500 tons more added 10 years later.

Several lighthouse keepers and keepers' dwellings were lost to swirling waters before the station was automated in 1921 and finally deactivated in 1932. Finally stabilized by the granite at its base, the lighthouse stood empty when its lens was removed in 1971. It wasn't until 2003, when ownership of the island and tower was transferred from the federal government to a group from neighboring Dauphin Island, that restoration of the lighthouse could begin and continue to this day.

Do come back to check my progress as I reconstruct the Sand Island lighthouse on canvas!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a terrible history for such a lovely lighthouse! But the current "version" looks terrific and I can't wait to see how you handle all the little details. It's a wonder it survived the hurricanes that roared through there recently (Katrina and Rita?) This one is a survivor!