Funding to preserve a Gulf County landmark is included in Florida's proposed 2014 state budget and officials in Port St. Joe are hopeful lawmakers pass the spending plan. Millions of dollars are allocated for funding local projects, including $325,000 to relocate the Cape San Blas lighthouse.
The Gulf of Mexico is relentless in its assault on the Gulf County shoreline, where the lighthouse has stood watch over the eroding coast since 1885. The property is owned by the U.S. Air Force and a Coast Guard station was once located there. The station shut down in 1980 and the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1996.
"Eglin Air Force Base wanted to document and dismantle [the lighthouse], but we felt like there was too much history and too many opportunities to teach children and others of our rich heritage," said Charlotte Pierce, President of the St. Joseph Historical Society.
The society has been raising money to keep the lighthouse and its history alive. Those efforts have been helped by donations from the Port St. Joe Downtown Redevelopment Agency, Florida Lighthouse Association and local governments.
The plan is to move the 60 ton tower and three other structures to Core Park near downtown Port St. Joe. "People love lighthouses… they are a part of Americana and people are drawn to them," said Mayor Mel Magidson. "We envision the lighthouse, the keeper's quarters, the oil house and some other things there to make that a kind of historic bay front park," Magidson said.
Beverly Douds, the "Lighthouse Lady" who has made it her mission to preserve the structure's rich history, is sad to see its days on the cape nearing an end. "It may not feel exactly right to the former Coast Guardsmen that were stationed there, but I would rather see it moved than lose it totally," Douds said.
Pierce said financial support has come from across the country and will help ensure new generations of citizens remain aware of the community's maritime history. "If you can't preserve your past, you can't share it with your future," Pierce said.
Click here for information on the lighthouse's history and to learn how to get involved in its future.