The Battista Boazio map of St. Augustine, published in 1589, shows a Spanish watchtower on the northeast corner of Anastasia Island. This eventually approximated the spot where the current day St. Augustine lighthouse, built in 1874, stands.
In 1737, the Spanish replaced their early wooden watchtower with one made of coquina. It was important to determine from which direction incoming ships approached, as ships coming from the north were often enemy vessels.
During the British Period (1764-1783), the old Spanish watchtower may have been used as a lighthouse. The St. Augustine bar itself was a danger and there have been many shipwrecks off the coast of this city. Included in these was the Storm Wreck of 1782. On New Year’s Eve 1782, sixteen ships full of Loyalist evacuees from Charleston, South Carolina wrecked while trying to enter the St. Augustine harbor. The Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) has been investigating this site since 2009 and the wreck has recently earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
During the Second Spanish Period, Spaniards refortified their old watchtower with more coquina. By 1853, after Florida became an American state, the tower held a Fresnel lens and one lard oil lamp, fueled by whale oil.
In the Civil War years, a local citizen Paul Arnau who lived on St. George Street removed the lenses from the lighthouse and hid them in his home to impede Union shipping routes. He was caught and forced to put these lenses back. In 1871, Congress approved $100,000 for a new lighthouse seeing as the standing tower was about to fall into the ocean. Construction took place from 1871 to 1874. The new tower stood at 165 feet!
The newly fitted Fresnel lens, from Paris, scoured a beam of light approximately twenty nautical miles out to sea.
During World War II, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Station was home to a Coastal Lookout Building. U.S. Navy and Coastguardsmen and women were stationed here to survey nearby waters for enemy activity. In the later half of the 20th century, the Junior Service League restored the St. Augustine Lighthouse, ensuring this structure’s status on the National Register of Historic Places.