On October 17, 1804, a plantation owner on St. Simons Island, Georgia, deeded four acres of his land at the south end of the island for one dollar to the Federal government for the construction of a lighthouse.
The first lighthouse and a one-story frame residence were built in 1810 at a cost of $13,775. The lighthouse tower stood 85 feet high and was in the shape of an octagonal pyramid. It was 25 feet in diameter at the base a
nd gradually narrowed to 10 feet in diameter at the top. A 10 foot high iron lantern ten feet high rested on top of the tower, and oil lamps were suspended on iron chains in the lantern.
The first keeper was appointed in May 1810 and the tower was lit for the first time. In 1857, a newer, more modern lens was installed and the lighthouse’s power and range were greatly improved.
The light guided mariners in St. Simons Sound for years until the Civil War. During the Civil War, artillery troops and six field guns were stationed at Fort Brown, just west of the lighthouse, to protect St. Simons Sound.
Evenutally, the Confederate troops were forced to evacuate due to an invasion by Federal troops. Before they left, however, they proceeded to blow up the lighthouse to prevent the opposing troops from using it as a navigational aid. For the next ten years, a cotton barn on nearby Retreat Plantation served as a navigational reference for ships entering Brunswick harbor. The tall cotton barn showed up on maps as “King’s Cotton House.”
The U. S. Government ordered the construction of a second lighthouse that was placed west of the first one. The construction consisted of a white, 104-foot tower containing a 129-step cast iron spiral staircase and a two-story brick lighthouse keeper’s dwelling next door.
The construction of the lighthouse brought tragedy, as the head of the construction and some of the crew didn’t live long enough to see their project completed. Stagnant ponds on the island were the perfect breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Many of the men were bitten and infected with malaria and died a year before the construction was finished.
Official records of the lighthouse keeper stated in 1874: “This station is very unhealthy, and it is attributed to the stagnant water in several ponds in the vicinity.” In 1876, the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment performed a complete overhaul of the lighthouse and the light keeper’s house to improve the condition of the buildings.
Originally, the keeper and his family along with the assistant and his family both lived in the keeper’s house. The keeper and his family resided downstairs and the assistant and his family lived upstairs. A central stairway connected the two households. The house was connected to the tower by a room in the keeper’s dwelling.
Around 1910, the building was converted into two apartments with the removal of the central staircase. An exterior staircase, stoop, and door were added on the north side giving access to the second floor. These steps and stoop were removed, the doorway re-bricked, and the central stairway rebuilt during the 1975 rehabilitation.
The lighthouse keeper’s house served as a home for the lighthouse keepers from 1872 until 1950. The lighthouse kerosene lamp was replaced by electricity in 1934. In the summer of 1939, the lighthouse was placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1953 the lighthouse was fully automated and the last lighthouse keeper retired.
Stories of the haunting stem from an argument in 1880, between then lighthouse keeper Frederick Osborne and his assistant. Apparently the two men got into a heated argument that ended with a fatal gunshot that left Osborne dead.
The assistant keeper, who was never charged in the case, continued tending the light, although legend says he didn’t seem to be tending it alone. Reportedly, he frequently heard the eerie sound of footsteps at night in the vacant tower.
Through the years, many other people claim to have also heard the sound of the heavy footsteps climbing the tower staircase, including the wives of keepers that tended the light in the years following the murder. Perhaps Osborne has decided to stay around and continue his duties.
In 2004, control of the lighthouse was handed over to the Coastal Georgia Historical Society under the Lighthouse Preservation Act. Today, with the assistance of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the light still serves as a navigational aid to help guide mariners through the dark nights and stormy weather.