Nearly 100 invited guests attended a ceremony last weekend aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola marking the 160th anniversary of one of Northwest Florida’s most iconic landmarks.
The Pensacola Lighthouse was celebrated during the hour-long ceremony, during which Pensacola Lighthouse Association founders Dianne Levi, Richard Callaway, and executive director Jon Hill offered remarks on the 171-foot tower. The celebration marked not only the structure’s 160th anniversary but the end of a four-year multimillion-dollar restoration effort.
Once under serious threat of demolition by the U.S. Navy, the lighthouse is one of the most recognized landmarks in Northwest Florida.
“None of this would have been possible without the Ladies of Impact, and the more than 130,000 visitors we have annually,” said Jon Hill, the executive director of the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum. “To a person, they all love this Lighthouse and have a vested interest in its continued success and accessibility.”
According to Hill, the current lighthouse is the second iteration of the structure in Pensacola, the first of which was established in 1824. That lighthouse was deemed “insufficient, too short and light not bright enough,” by sea captains working in the area, Hill said, and Congress appropriated funds for the current lighthouse with construction beginning in 1856 and completed two years later. The lighthouse’s Fresnel lens was lit for the first time on Jan. 1, 1859.
Restoration efforts during the four-year refurbishment included repair of 300 feet of linear cracks on the exterior, replacement of 110 of the structure’s 177 stairs, restoration of the ironwork at the top, restoration of the Fresnel lens and complete restoration of all associated buildings. Hill added that the significant community involvement made the facility’s refurbishment possible.
“We are excited to see the end of this large historic restoration effort,” he said. “All work was completed without the benefit of federal dollars. It was completed entirely through earned income, donations and grants from organizations such as Pensacola Bay Area Impact 100, Florida Lighthouse Association and Florida Department of Historic Resources.”
Event guest speaker NAS Pensacola Commanding Officer Capt. Christopher Martin said that although the lighthouse resides on an area of Pensacola Bay occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard, the rich tradition the Pensacola community shares with the U.S. Armed Forces makes the iconic Lighthouse part of the history of a base which has trained Naval aviators for a century.
“I’m honored that this important part of Gulf Coast history is located so close to NAS Pensacola,” he said. “The Pensacola Lighthouse Association does an incredible job of maintaining this amazing landmark, and I do not doubt the thousands of visitors passing through the base to visit the lighthouse are impressed with what is an important part of this area’s history.”
According to Hill, since the lighthouse was lit in 1859, the structure has survived cannon fire, two lightning strikes and the Great Charleston earthquake of 1886. He also said that in 1965, the Lighthouse was automated and no longer manned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Although still in use, most of the Pensacola Lighthouse’s historic buildings – including the lighthouse keeper’s quarters – were left to decline, and in 1991 were slated for demolition. An effort from Navy Cultural Resource Officer Richard Callaway, however, saved the facility’s structures and helped found an organization to care for and restore the Lighthouse.