Cape Canaveral Lighthouse still beams with pride

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse stands out on a bright sunny April morning before the arrival of visitors. Visitors have access to the lighthouse, which is at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, through guided bus tours. INSET: The old brick lighthouse tower, left, and the newer, right, iron lighthouse tower of Cape Canaveral stood together before the latter was moved 1.5 miles inland in 1893.

SENIOR LIFE R. Norman Moody /INSET: Courtesy of State of Florida

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, the only lighthouse owned and operated by the U.S. Air Force, has stood as a guide for mariners on the Brevard County coast for more than 150 years. Still operating, the light comes on every night to shine out 22 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. It protects passing ships from dangerous shoals.

“This is the second lighthouse at the Cape,” said Ron Ecker, lighthouse docent and member of both the Florida Lighthouse Association and the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation on which he serves. “The first lighthouse, built in 1848, was 60-feet high and the light showed for 10 miles into the ocean. Then they discovered there were dangerous shoals farther out. So in 1858, a cast iron lighthouse was built in New York State. But production stopped when the Civil War started because the company had to build cannons. Construction began again on the lighthouse after the war. Assembly was completed in 1868 and it stood a few yards from the original. For a while, two lighthouses were on
the Cape.”

The government decided to move the lighthouse to the point of the older lighthouse and it proceeded to demolish the original lighthouse. Then, it used the original concrete and foundation to relocate the new lighthouse about a mile in shore where it is now, according
to Ecker.

“It took months to reassemble and get the light lighted,” Ecker said. “To put the lighthouse back together, every piece inside was numbered in Roman numerals and outside pieces marked in Arabic numbers. Still standing where it was placed in July 1884, the light was automated in 1933 with two modern optic lenses now used.”The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is the only fully operational lighthouse that is owned by the United States Air Force. Ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Air Force in 2000 <i>  | Photo by SENIOR LIFE R. Norman Moody <i/>

In 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard took over all lighthouses. After World War II, (1947 or 1948) the Cape Canaveral site received 900 acres of land from the lighthouse to the ocean since the U.S. government was looking for a place to launch rockets, according to Ecker.

Hanger C, right next to the lighthouse, was where the German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun launched rockets after the war, viewing the rocket launches from the lighthouse.

Two communities — one called DeSoto — existed on the Cape in the 1950s, Ecker said. Every time there was a rocket launch, the government moved the residents to the hotel on the coast. The communities originally were built in and around lighthouse keepers’ cottages and a school. In 1967, the cottages were destroyed.

In 2000, the Coast Guard turned the lighthouse over to the U.S. Air Force, making it the only operational lighthouse owned by the U.S. Air Force and owned by the 45th Space Wing based at Patrick Air Force Base, Ecker said.

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation, founded to help preserve the light, is trying to raise $2 million to rebuild lighthouse keepers’ cottages near the lighthouse. The group has an ongoing fundraising effort through which anyone can purchase a brick for the walkway surrounding the lighthouse. The brick, at a cost of $150 each with five characters per line of inscription, can be used to memorialize or honor someone.

The Lobster Fest fundraiser, which was not held this year, will be restarted once again in 2018. Other events at the lighthouse are in the planning stages.

Sunward Tours offers Cape Canaveral Lighthouse tours. Earlier tours operated by the Air Force were stopped after budget cuts. The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation was instrumental in getting the tours resumed with the tour company.

Tours are for $27 per person, leaving from Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral. Fees include a tour of Exploration Tower. Reservations are required. Call 321-453-3994 at least 48 hours prior to the tour date.


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