British Gen. James Oglethorpe founded Georgia in 1733. Three years later, he oversaw the building on Tybee Island of the colony’s first lighthouse. Oglethorpe saw the crucial need for lighthouses to safely guide ships, laden with people and goods, through Georgia’s treacherous coastal waters.
Eventually, over more than two centuries, 15 lighthouses came to dot Georgia’s 100-mile-long coastline. Five still stand.
Like lighthouses everywhere — more than 400 in the United States — Georgia’s five remaining lights represent a rich, maritime heritage. They’re admired not only for their great beauty, but also for the trove of history they represent. They all tell their own tales of fierce wars, marauding pirates, lost ships, and rescued sailors. They have withstood hurricanes, destructive erosion and cannonballs raining down during raging battles.
Today, Georgia’s lighthouses add a coastal charm and remain as symbols of hope and safe haven. Three lighthouses – Tybee Island, St. Simons and Sapelo — still serve as navigation aids. From the tops of them, glorious views can still be had of salt marshes, estuaries, maritime forests – and the restless ocean itself.
Here’s more information about Georgia’s five lighthouses (from north to south along the coast):
– At the mouth of the Savannah River is the Tybee Island Light, Georgia’s oldest lighthouse – and tallest at 145-feet tall. The striking black-and-white tower remains one of America’s most intact lighthouses, with all its historic support structures — including lighthouse keepers’ cottages — still on site. The lighthouse and museum are maintained by the Tybee Island Historical Society and open to the public.
– The 46-foot-tall Cockspur Island Lighthouse, sitting on a tiny isle two miles south of Tybee Light, is Georgia‘s smallest lighthouse. Made of Savannah gray brick, the current structure was built in 1857 to mark the Savannah River’s south Channel. No longer functional, it’s now a part of the Fort Pulaski National Monument on Tybee, managed by the National Park Service. It’s closed to the public, but good views of it can be had from an overlook trail at the national monument.
– With bold red and white stripes, the 100-foot-tall Sapelo Island Lighthouse is perhaps Georgia’s most beautiful light. Built in 1905, it replaced a previous structure damaged by hurricanes and the Civil War. By 1934, with ship traffic in the area declining to a trickle, the Sapelo Light was deactivated. It has been fully restored and is open to the public through special tours.
Near the lighthouse is another light, a so-called Range Front Light, one of few such structures remaining in the country. Although it’s not considered a lighthouse itself, mariners used it with the Sapelo Light to position their ships and plot a safe course into the harbor.
– The original St. Simons Island Lighthouse was destroyed during the Civil War and replaced in 1872 with the current 104-foot-tall tower. The beautiful lighthouse was electrified in 1934 and automated in 1953. Maintained by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, it’s still operational and open to the public.
–The 60-foot-tall Little Cumberland Island Lighthouse was built in 1838 to mark the entrance to St. Andrews Sound and the Satilla River in Camden County. Later deactivated, it and the surrounding area are now privately owned and closed to the public. However, the top half of the lighthouse can be seen from Jekyll Island’s south end.