Even with the advent of GPS, boaters familiar with their home waters still use landmarks to guide them to their homeports and those new to an area find them to be crucial. Throughout the Gulf Coast, the region is sprinkled with historic lighthouses many of which are still functioning, and some of these lights have guided sailors home to safety for more than two centuries and have the history to prove it. While there are far too many to mention here, the following list is a good start for your explorations.
Mobile Bay—In the shallows of Mobile Bay, the Middle Bay Light has stood since 1885 and marks the dogleg in the primary shipping channel. Placed on the National Historic Registry in 1975, this lighthouse has withstood many a hurricane and still serves as a navigational tool.
Cape San Blas—Originally constructed in 1848, the Cape San Blas Lighthouse marked the elbow in the cape extruding into the Gulf of Mexico that forms St. Joseph’s Bay on the Florida Panhandle. In 2014, the lighthouse was decommissioned and moved to a bayside park in the town of Port St. Joe and now includes a museum.
Seahorse Key—On a pristine and undeveloped section of Florida’s west coast lies a chain of keys near the entrance to the Suwannee River. In 1854, the first lighthouse was built on the Cedar Keys, and today the lighthouse is home to the University of Florida’s Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory.
Pensacola—Located on Santa Rosa Island near Fort Barrancas, the Pensacola Lighthouse went operational in 1824 and is still visible when entering the Pensacola Lighthouse. Today, it houses a lighthouse museum and is located on the grounds of the Naval Air Station.
New Canal—Nearly destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2015, the New Canal Lighthouse was originally constructed in 1839 and guided barges and schooners from Lake Pontchartrain into one of the shipping canals leading to downtown New Orleans. The lighthouse was fully restored after the hurricane, is operational and home to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
Tchefuncte River Lighthouse—Erected in 1837 at the entrance of the large Tchefuncte River into Lake Pontchartrain, the lighthouse has been guiding boaters to the quaint resort town of Madisonville for their popular Wooden Boat Festival on the lake’s north shore.
Round Island—The lighthouse was constructed in 1833 to guide mariners into the port of Pascagoula from the Mississippi Sound. Hurricane Katrina destroyed it as it was undergoing restoration, and the salvaged remains were shipped by barge and relocated in Pascagoula from the barrier island. The lighthouse was relighted in 2015.
By Troy Gilbert – Southern Boating Magazine, February 2016