Lighthouses in the Florida Keys have a tough task to manage. The area is not only strewn with coral reefs and shoals, but is also a favorite highway for destructive hurricanes and other storms. The Sand Key Lighthouse, the southernmost lighthouse in the United States, has been in operation since 1827, and has borne witness to much of this action over the years.
Congress originally passed up Sand Key for a lighthouse station when it began appropriating money for new lights in the region. Acts in 1822 and 1824 funded lighthouses at Cape Florida, Carysford Reef, the Dry Tortugas, and one of the Sambo Keys, but nothing for Sand Key.
The new lighthouse was completed in 1853, and featured Florida’s first Fresnel lens. The lens had been displayed at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York before it was shipped to Florida for installation. It was lit for the first time on July 20, 1853.
The new Sand Key lighthouse was much stronger than the traditional conical brick building it replaced. The shaft of the lighthouse was a cast-iron pile, supported by a frame of iron beams. Over 450 tons of iron went into its construction.
For more photos of Florida’s historic lighthouses, search the Florida Photographic Collection.
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