What is in a name?
There is oftentimes confusion over which light on Gasparilla Island is actually Gasparilla Island light, and rightly so. If you search the internet for this particular light you will find descriptions run the gamut from located at the southern tip with 60 steps to 105’ steel structure.” This all occurred due to a clerical error about 25 years ago.
In 1890 a house-dwelling style light was built on the southern tip of Gasparilla Island. The name used by the U.S. Lighthouse service for this light was Gasparilla Island Light Station or Gasparilla Island light. In 1927 another lighthouse was constructed on Gasparilla Island as a rear range light and this one was named Boca Grande Rear Range light after the village on the island. By this time locals were already calling the lighthouse on the southern end, Boca Grande light. This left the island with a lighthouse and range light and it seemed easy to distinguish the two. Until that is, in 1966 when the Gasparilla Light Station (Boca Grande Lighthouse) was decommissioned. After the lighthouse was fully restored in 1986, the light was reactivated and here is when the clerical error occurred. The United States Coast Guard clerk, (and we will not name names) did not check the history of the light and since the locals called it Boca Grande light anyway, decided to rename it Port Boca Grande after its distinguished history as an active port for over a hundred years. Hence, when the 105’ steel skeleton structure was decommissioned as a range light, it was renamed Gasparilla Island Light causing forever confusion as to which light is which. And who would guess on a small island only seven miles long that there would be two lighthouses. Now for the rest of the story…
The lighthouse was built in 1881 in by the Phoenix Iron Company of Trenton, N.J. It began service that year just north of Lewes, Delaware as the Delaware Breakwater Rear Range Light, known locally as the Green Hill Lighthouse. In 1877, a nearly identical tower, Liston Rear Range light, had been constructed and placed in service near Taylor’s Bridge, Delaware and still exists. In 1918, as a result of shoreline changes, the lighthouse was decommissioned. In 1919, the supervisor of the Delaware station was notified by the Seventh Lighthouse District in Florida that a tower was needed in Florida. Funding was not available to transport the Lewes lighthouse until 1921, at which time it was disassembled with each part being marked and numbered for easy reassembly. It was then shipped by rail to Miami until funding could be allocated for its reception on Gasparilla Island. A very similar lighthouse had been constructed on Sanibel Island in Florida in 1884.
In 1927, the lighthouse was reassembled and installed on Gasparilla Island just north of the Town of Boca Grande by the United States Lighthouse Service. The tower was painted white and lit on January 1, 1932. The light was not manned, but continuously maintained by the Keepers of Boca Grande.
The lighthouse was of significant importance to commerce in the area during the early part of the century, guiding ships from various parts of the world through the Boca Grande Navigational Channel in to the safety of Charlotte Harbor.
The lighthouse is a 105 foot steel skeleton tower and has a cylindrical tower that supports the lantern containing a 250-mm/250 watt optic 4th order lens. It is positioned at AP latitude 26-44-31-275N and AP longitude 082-15-48.377W and carries the Coast Guard Aid number 159. It was utilized as a rear range light and the front entrance light sat in the Gulf of Mexico about a mile west of the light. When the two range lights aligned, it would tell the captain it was safe to proceed into the channel. Locals on the island, fondly call Gasparilla Island Light the “Rear Range” light, although, it now acts as a lighthouse and not a range light. The front entrance light was removed years prior.
Today, the lighthouse still stands as an active Aid-to-Navigation, however, it is in desperate need of repair. The great news is Barrier Island Parks Society recently acquired the light under the Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act and is the official steward of this light. We have been diligently fundraising to raise enough funds to fully restore the light and although all the funding has not been obtained, we are moving forward with restoration efforts in hopes to complete the project sometime around the beginning of next year. If you have a heart for this light and would like to support restoration efforts, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. or Donate Now.