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 some 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 Entrance Rear Range Light after the village on the island. By this time locals were already calling the lighthouse on the southern end, Boca Grande Lighthouse. 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 was 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 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 south of the town of Boca Grande by the United States Lighthouse Service. The tower was painted white and a 4th order Fresnel lens was installed 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. It is positioned at AP latitude 26-44-31-275N and AP longitude 082-15-48.377W and had carried the Coast Guard Aid number 159. It also used to house a 250-mm/250 watt optic 4th order lens. 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 harbor pilot it was safe to proceed into the channel. It is common for a local harbor pilot, not the ship’s captain, to bring large ships into port. Some old timers call the lighthouse, the mid-range light, but most on the island fondly call it, the range light.
Great things began to happen in 2016. BIPS, after strict review by the US Coast Guard, was officially licensed the lighthouse and the land in April. By September, the organization had raised enough funds from the local community to begin restoration efforts with the help of a fabulous restoration team – Ken Smith Architects, Alex Klahm Architectural Metals and Design, Razorback, LLC, and Atlantic Engineering Services. Most of the restoration was completed in 6 months. Some of the things that were done during the full restoration included:
• Replicating and replacing 12 structural nuts that connected the lighthouse to the foundation
• Replacing 34 structural bolts connecting the observation deck to the lighthouse drum
• Replicas of the historic front access and lantern room doors were created
• 14 new wooden pulley windows were recreated using 100 year-old cypress sinker logs
• More than 2,000 deteriorated rivets were removed and replaced with handmade look-alikes
• 60,000 pounds of abrasives were used to remove the existing paint and rust
• 5,000 pounds of new paint was applied inside and out
• The specialized Tnemec paint that was used cost approximately $500 a gallon
Sadly, during the restoration process, the U.S. Coast Guard made the decision to decommission the lighthouse which had stood as an active Aid-to-Navigation for 90 years. The determination was made in part because of modern-day GPS usage by boaters and the existing Port Boca Grande Lighthouse that serves as a harbor light 2 miles south of Gasparilla Island Lighthouse. Gasparilla Island Lighthouse was officially decommissioned as an active Aid-to-Navigation in the beginning of 2017.
Today, the lighthouse is awaiting approval as a Private-Aid-to-Navigation. The lighthouse had its first historic climb in April 2017. It is open for scheduled public lighthouse tours several times a month except for August and September when the heat can rise above a hundred degrees. BIPS estimates by January 2018, the lighthouse and lens will be in full operation.
The lighthouse cost over a million dollars to restore and continues to cost close to $40,000 annually to keep it open to the public. The light and lens were also not part of the original campaign and will run about $50,000. If you have a heart for this lighthouse and would like to support continued restoration or operation efforts, please select the donate button or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.