At the time it was built in 1859 entering the St Johns River was a risky business except for small vessels. Shifting sands and erratic currents moved the channel about so that sailors were never quite sure how to get across the sandbar at the mouth of the river.
The beacon at a top of the lighthouse warned mariners of their approach to the shoals. The brick tower is 85 ft tall with 90 slate steps and a third order Fresnel lens up top.
During the Civil War the lighthouse was extinguished by the Confederates on July 10th 1861. The Lighthouse Keeper John Daniels that remain with the lighthouse was arrested for showing light signals at night from the top of the tower. A Union soldiers Civil War diary entry recorded the arrest. “It was almost 3 o’clock in the morning as near as I can remember when we started from camp. We were going to surround the lighthouse keepers dwelling and arrest the keeper and any other parties we might find there. The keeper denied all knowledge of any light and declared he was a Union man, nevertheless they took him under guard down to Camp. I pitied the light keepers wife who was almost frantic with fear for her husband. It turned out when the moon was first rising it was only reflection lasting a few moments.”
In 1929 the St Johns River Lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced by the St John’s light ship moored about 8 miles offshore from the river’s mouth.
The best way to view the lighthouse is by driving through the fishing Village of Mayport, which has some of the freshest and largest fish markets in the state. Good prices too.
Since it’s located on the grounds of the Naval Air Station base where the site is closed to the public, you can get a good view from Broad and Palm Street in Mayport.
David Garland FL Jacksonville Jan 13, 2023 History Maritime Waterways