Welcome to the updated Anclote Key lighthouse page. I have updated the website over the past several months, and there is tons of new information that I am still working on retrieving, organizing, and posting. My goal with this website is to make it as useful and accessible as possible, and to be functional and easy to find information without any digging. There is tons of information here, so visit the pages on the top to see what is new! Below I have included background information on the lighthouse, links to other websites, and most importantly acknowledgements for all those who have helped me along my travels on Anclote Key.
The coastline of Florida is graced with over 30 lighthouses that still stand today as mysterious keepsakes of maritime history in the midst of our rapidly advanced world around us. As technology has vastly progressed in shipping industries, many of these lighthouses have been left abandoned for decades, being replaced by GPS and other markers, yet still representing maritime history and reminding us of times past. The abandonment of many of these lighthouses has led to their turmoil. Some of the more popular lighthouses such as the ones in St. Augustine and in Key West have been restored and maintained to their original glory, but many of the lighthouses in more primitive locations have been left to the elements with little to no maintenance. The fact that many of these lighthouses are located in shifting coastal regions also threatens their very existence. Beach erosion caused the Cape St. George lighthouse on Little St. George island to ultimately tilt 7 degrees to the side, and Hurricanes Opal and Georges finally caused the tower to collapse into the sea, entirely destroying it. (The remains of the lighthouse were later recovered and the lighthouse was reconstructed on St. George island for the public to easily enjoy). Herein is the reason why I personally am so fascinated with the Anclote Key lighthouse. It is one of the lesser known lighthouses in Florida, due to its remote location and its lesser popularity. The more primitive, less popular lighthouses have always fascinated me, and the Anclote Key lighthouse is one of my favorites for this very reason.
The Anclote Key lighthouse resides near the southern end of Anclote Key, a 4 mile long island at the end of a collection of barrier islands starting at the mouth of Tampa Bay and ending at the northern tip of Anclote Key. The Anclote Keys State Preserve envelops Anclote Key as well as Dutchman Key and some other small islands toward the northern tip (Anclote Keys) of the preserve on the coastal side of the main island. Dutchman Key is still a privately owned island that the owner has attempted selling to the state for a large sum of money. He claims that he has witnessed large holes on the island from people extracting what looks to have been cannons from Dutchman Key (pirates typically stuffed treasure into cannons to bury it). While buried treasure may be far fetched, it seems in line with pirate history along the Florida coastline, and Anclote Key would have been a great place to store treasure. Unfortunately, the quickly shifting land features in the area would make searching very difficult. Anclote is similar to the Spanish word for "anchor." The lighthouse's original purpose was to guide ships headed in to Tarpon Springs away from the shallow regions surrounding the island.
Anclote Key is similar in many respects to Honeymoon and Caledesi Islands to the south. On the gulf side of the island is a beautiful, unspoiled white sand beach stretching from the northern tip all the way to the southern tip. On both the northern and southern extreme ends of the island are shallow areas that are constantly shifting due to currents and hurricanes. At the southern tip of Anclote Key, where the original pier for the lighthouse was, is a very shallow sandbar that now extends about a quarter mile from the original southern reach of the island. The lighthouse pier is now on the southeast side of the island, in a deeper region that was probably dredged during restoration. All along the gulf side of the island are uprooted and blown over Australian pines, examples of the strength of hurricanes and erosion in the area. Much of the gulf side of the island is covered in saw grass marshes, sea oats, and other shorter brush. On the coastal side, mainly mangroves exist in a beautiful and natural maze of mangrove forests that open up into vast, shallow sea grass flats at the water's edge. From the top of the lighthouse you can see a rigid divide between the west (gulf) and east (coastal) portions of the main island.
The water around Anclote Key is gorgeous, and most of the year it is crystal clear, allowing you to see all the way to the sea grass bottom in 10 to 15 feet of water in some places. The region is one of the few unspoiled coastal areas that have been lesser effected by pollution and coastal development, and efforts to preserve the area have nourished grass flats to their beautiful natural states, bounding with a plethora of juvenile grouper, spotted sea trout, redfish, and snook. Although beautiful, the shallow and unpredictable grass flat areas have proven treacherous to sailboats and large powerboats since many parts of the flats shallow to only a foot or two deep in many places outside the channels. Oftentimes you see beached sailboats in the area waiting for high tide to break free. Near the coastal side of the lighthouse, the flats extend from inches deep in the mangrove swamps to only 2 feet or so about a quarter mile towards the Florida coast. At the northern end of the group of islands, the stretch of water between Dutchman Key and Anclote Key is so shallow in places that it is only passable by either kayak or specialized flats boats.
One may think that living on such a natural and beautiful island would be a vacation, but after visiting the island in the summertime and experiencing the Florida heat and swarms of mosquitoes, they would instantly think differently. In a time when mosquito repellant, frozen microwave dinners, air conditioning, cellular phones, and television did not exist, surely life was difficult for the keepers that lived on the island. Most of the island consists of mangrove forests and swamp, and the little area of inhabitable land can be easily undermined by powerful storms and hurricanes. Yet keepers weathered the atmosphere for years for little pay because of the love for their jobs.
Growing up, I visited the island and lighthouse fairly frequently. The first time I saw the Anclote Key lighthouse was on a boat trip to the island as a child, when I instantly felt a strange attraction to it. Ever since the lighthouse was deactivated and abandoned in 1984, its condition increasingly diminished as years went by. By the time I first ventured near to the lighthouse area, I could tell that years of vandalism and exposure to the elements had taken a negative effect on its condition. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1984, but by the late 1980s vandals that broke into the tower broke every piece of glass from windows and the gallery at the top of the tower, and permanently destroyed the original Fresnel lens at the top of the lighthouse beyond repair. With the lighthouse open to the elements, the interior and exterior both deteriorated to poor conditions. Only 20 or 30 years after the tower was left abandoned, the lighthouse had been stripped and vandalized until nothing was left to be destroyed, and only the cast iron shell remained. The original brick oil house to the west of the tower also deteriorated to the point that only the bare brick structure remained, with no roof or door, and a large hole on one side. A barbed wire fence was added around the area with numerous "Restricted Area" signs along the beach and in the lighthouse area, but this rarely stopped vandals from climbing over the fence or cutting holes in it. It is certainly disappointing to see the extent of such vandalism on such an important piece of history, especially noting the trouble it takes people to reach such a remote lighthouse.
Today, the lighthouse stands restored to its original glory in beautiful condition. Restoration began with a new pier constructed on the southeast end of the island. A boardwalk from the pier to the concrete walkway to the lighthouse was constructed so that workers and equipment could travel to the lighthouse grounds. In its original state, the pier remained on the south end of the island, connected with a brick walkway headed north from the pier to the lighthouse compound including the tower and keepers' houses. This brick walkway was later covered with concrete at one point, and after being abandoned had become overgrown with the island's vegetation. During one trip I ventured as far south on this walkway as possible until I was met with a swampy overgrown area that I did not wish to continue along for of fear for rattlesnakes and other island creatures. I would imagine this brick and concrete walkway farther south was lost due to erosion on the south end of the island. During some time between the deactivation of the lighthouse and the restoration, NOAA placed several stations along the walkway and in the lighthouse area to measure weather and atmospheric patterns. Today, I do not believe these stations exist anymore, and I was never able to locate any of them during any of my adventures to the lighthouse area, despite having the documentation that described their locations. A strange modern concrete structure also existed inside the gated area, and many have assumed this to be a well or cistern of some sort.
With the restoration effort in process, the lighthouse was relit on September, 13, 2003 when the tower was finally stabilized. A relighting ceremony was held the evening of the relighting at Sunset Beach Park. The restoration continued as the tower was sandblasted, repaired, and repainted. At one point the gallery was removed from the tower to be restored at ground level, and was replaced when it was finished. The entire structure was refurbished using the original colors on the inside and out. A reproduction Fresnel lens was created and installed, and the lighthouse is in operation to this day. Later on a keeper's house was built on the island to house a full-time park ranger, although the design differs greatly from the original keepers' houses. With a full-time ranger on the island, the lighthouse can now be protected from vandalism, and with the tower restored and properly maintained, it will exist for years to come for people to appreciate.
I owe a great deal of appreciation to many people, named and unnamed, who have helped me in my research and travels for the Anclote Key lighthouse. Most importantly I thank artist and author Roger Bansemer for his inspiration and kindness. He has done extensive research on the Anclote Key lighthouse, and is an outstanding artist and author. Please check out his gallery and books in the links below, especially his Book of Florida Lighthouses. You will enjoy Bansemer's Book of Florida Lighthouses so much you will wear out the pages, as have I! I hope to carry on his same passion for the Anclote Key lighthouse in my years to come. Timothy Johnson is another lighthouse enthusiast who has done a great deal of research, and has specifically helped with the list of historical lighthouse keepers. Neil Hurley has done an incredible amount of research on all of Florida's lighthouses, and we are all indebted to him for his collections and for sharing with us all. He is the walking encyclopedia on Floridian lighthouses. Lary McSparren and David Puigdomenech have been a great help in times past. Gloria Beauchamp has been a great help in communicating with those in charge of the Anclote Key State Park. Chris Berner, the resident park ranger, has done a great deal to help us all. He is the 21st century lighthouse keeper, and his devotion to both the lighthouse and the preservation of the Anclote Key State Preserve is greatly appreciated. There are numerous individuals that helped in the restoration of the lighthouse, and while I cannot name them all, their efforts will be forever admired. Funds for restoration came from approprations from past governor Jeb Bush as well as countless donations from kind inviduals. And last, but not least, is a special thanks to my vintage OMC outboards that have never let me down and continue running like a clock.
Here is a list of links relating to the Anclote Key Lighthouse:
Roger Bansemer's Lighthouses of the South
Friends of Anclote Key
The Florida Lighthouse Association
You may e-mail me by clicking here. For questions regarding the Anclote Key State Park, you can find contact informatino on the Friends of Anclote Key page above. For information on getting to the lighthouse, please visit the getting there link above.