Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum
Daytona Beach, Florida
Monday, August 12, 2019
The 1st United States Congress met at Federal Hall in New York City (later, they would move to Congress Hall in Philadelphia) from March 4, 1789 to March 4, 1791. The United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives came together and officially established the operations of the United Sates federal government. By August 7, 1789, president George Washington signed the Ninth Act of the First Congress, thereby establishing federal control and administration of the nation’s lighthouses in order to regulate, promote and develop the trade and commerce of this new nation. Fast-forward to November 5, 1988 when the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, signed into law: National Lighthouse Day to take place on the bicentennial, August 7, 1989.
Well hey, we are always looking for reasons and excuses to travel! Another “National Day of…” loomed as an opportunity to revisit the Atlantic shore. We chose Daytona Beach, Florida and the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum.
The Ponce Inlet Light, located south of Daytona Beach, lies between Cape Canaveral Light and the St. Augustine Light. It was originally known as the Mosquito Inlet Light when built in 1835. Destroyed by a combination of violent weather, Seminole Indians, and a huge storm, the structure collapsed in 1836. Surprisingly, even though there were many shipwrecks along this unlit coast, it took more than 50 years to put up another lighthouse. Standardized plans had now been developed for lighthouse construction; the new light was erected and lit in 1887. Ten years later, the author and journalist, Stephen Crane, was on his way to Cuba to cover the Cuban revolt against Spanish rule. He was aboard the SS Commodore when she sank. Crane and several crewmen escaped in a small dinghy. They made it to shore when they spotted and steered toward the Mosquito Inlet Light! Stephen Crane wrote the short story The Open Boat based on this experience.
In 1970, the Coast Guard established a beacon on the south side of the inlet and abandoned the lighthouse. The Town of Ponce Inlet acquired the light station from the Department of the Interior in 1972. The Preservation Association restored the facility and created a museum. They also installed a modern beacon in the Ponce Inlet tower. Then, in 1982, after that modern beacon was functional in the Ponce Inlet tower (but, very likely, because high-rise buildings had sprung up to block the newer Coast Guard beacon’s light), the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was reactivated. Later, with the Coast Guard’s permission, the museum completed the restoration and reinstated the 1933 characteristic (pattern of flashes) of FL(6)30sec (6 flashes every 30 seconds.) The lighthouse is back in use as a private aid to navigation, maintained by the museum staff. There are 30 “active” lighthouses in Florida. Only six are open to the public.
Here are some photos:
As long as we were in the area, we decided to have lunch at Caribbean Jack’s in Daytona Beach. John “Caribbean Jack” Gilbert (1903-1941) was an avid and experienced mariner who, during Prohibition, sought his fortune as a rum runner bringing spirits from the nearby Bahamas to Florida’s east coast. Still a young man, but growing wiser with age, he decided to take his hoard of cash and hone new skills that did not risk jail time. As a result of the rum running, he now owned S-29 Sikorsky Seaplanes that he re-purposed for post-storm search and rescue missions that had put fellow mariners in danger. Eventually, Jack opened a restaurant and bar in Daytona Beach. But his fate was sealed on March 8, 1936, when he participated in the first stock car race to take place in Daytona. He was hooked! He loved the adventure and danger of stock car racing. Sadly, on November 26, 1941, his 38th birthday, Jack lost control and plunged his car into a canal. He did not survive but his legend lives on….
We had a great time in Daytona Beach and will look forward to a return visit.