Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
Ponce Inlet, Florida
- Site Established: 1834
- Current Bldg. Erected: 1886
- Height of Light Structure: 176.5 ft.
- Focal Plane of Light: 164.5 ft.
- Active: Yes
- Lens: First-Order Fresnel
- Beacon Visibility: 18 miles
- Information: (386) 761-1821
Historic Significance Score: 5
In 1569, Spanish Captain Antonio de Prado’s expedition explored an ocean inlet in the northeast corner of present-day Florida that he christened “the Mosquitoes” because of the abundance of insects that greeted them.
Although this initial landing did not result in the establishment of a colony for Spain, after a short era of English control in the middle of the 18th century Spain regained this land in 1784.
The area soon flourished with plantations and the correlating commerce that followed created the need for a navigational aid for the shipping of goods.
In 1834, the U.S. Congress authorized the establishment of a lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet.
William H. Williams was appointed the first light keeper but never had the chance to carry out his duties because the oil needed to light the tower was not delivered to the location. After a severe hurricane in 1835 and 18 months of no oil deliveries, Williams took his family away from the lighthouse, leaving it to the whims of ransacking Seminole Indians, who broke into the tower and beacon room and confiscated the reflectors used in the lens.
This action was the beginning on the Second Seminole War, and the Battle of Dunlawton soon followed a few weeks later. It was recorded that these Seminoles used the stolen reflectors in their headdresses at this battle. Upon the Seminole victory, the area and lighthouse were abandoned for more than 50 years.
A new and exquisite lighthouse was designed by Francis Hopkinson Smith and built at the north side of Mosquito Inlet in 1886 as the need continued for a beacon between St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral to combat the dangerous currents.
In 1897, Stephen Crane, famous author of the Civil War classic novel The Red Badge of Courage was shipwrecked off Mosquito Inlet and used this new, grand light to navigate his raft back to shore. Afterwards, he wrote the famous short story “The Open Boat” to commemorate his shipwreck experience.
As the area grew in population, the location name was changed in 1926 to Ponce de Leon Inlet in the hopes of helping the real-estate market with a more appealing name.
In 1933 the lighthouse tower received electricity and within a decade the grounds were used to house Coast Guardsmen in World War II, who watched and patrolled the shores for enemy submarines.
In 1970 the Coast Guard built another beacon south of the present lighthouse land and deeded the current land to the town of Ponce Inlet, spurring the founding of the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse Preservation Association. The association acquired the designation of a National Historic Landmark for the lighthouse in 1972 and reactivated the light in 1982. Over the past 30 years the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse Preservation Association painstakingly restored this lighthouse to its former splendor and glory.
Majesty Score: 5
With boasting-rights as the tallest lighthouse in Florida and as the second-tallest lighthouse in the country behind Cape Hatteras Light, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is awe-inspiring!
With more than 1.2 million Maryland bricks used in its construction and 213 steps to the top, the brick-red Ponce Inlet Lighthouse easily scores the top score of 5 on majesty!
Similar to Cape Hatteras, visitors on the lighthouse grounds will have difficulty trying to get the whole lighthouse in their camera frame, and a horizontal picture of the lighthouse encompassing the whole lighthouse in nearly impossible to capture due to its height.
Water View Score: 3
The only scoring consideration Ponce Inlet Lighthouse does not score strong in is water view. The lighthouse is a few blocks’ walk from the ocean and the ocean cannot be seen from the lighthouse complex at ground level.
Preservation Score: 5
The Ponce de Leon Lighthouse Preservation Association has provided lighthouse lovers everywhere with an unpayable debt in restoring this lighthouse during the past three decades. In 2000 and 2001, over $1 Million was put into restoration of this lighthouse.
The lighthouse grounds are PRISTINELY preserved and are one of the few places in America where all of the original buildings in the lighthouse complex are perfectly preserved. It allows visitors to enter an 1800s time capsule with eight historic buildings intact: the keeper’s dwelling, two assistant keeper’s dwellings,(see below) a pump house, a woodshed, a generator building, an oil storage building and, of course, the light tower.
Surrounding Area Score: 4
The surrounding area of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is beautiful! The ride down Atlantic Avenue to the lighthouse features high-rise condominiums along the ocean coexisting with beach homes.
The Volusia County Beaches are beautiful and feature sand that is so tightly packed down that the county allows cars to drive along the beach. This is a treat to many people from other areas of the country that do not allow cars on beaches. The beaches are also known for their turtle nesting every year. The southern tail end of Daytona Beach is only a few blocks drive from the lighthouse for a quick ocean visit, or New Smyrna Beach is just a 30 minute car ride from the lighthouse and is gorgeous – definitely worth a visit!
Accessibility Score: 5
Visitors have access to every building in the complex and can climb the tower to the top for a small admission fee. A plaque on the wall midway through the tower climb tells the story of a light keeper who had a heart attack while climbing the same stairs. It was quite a conversation piece to huffing and puffing tourists.
Upon reaching the top of the tower, the visitor of Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is treated to one of the best views of any lighthouses in America (see below), courtesy of the light’s position on land between two bodies of water, thus featuring a view of the ocean to the east and an inlet view behind it to the west.