About This Episode
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is a lighthouse and museum located at Ponce de León Inlet in Central Florida. At 175 feet in height, it is the tallest lighthouse in the state. It is located between St. Augustine Light and Cape Canaveral Light. Restored by the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse became a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and three keepers’ dwellings have been restored, and are open to the public seven days a week. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Tower is open for climbing.
Step back in time and climb 175 feet of fun in the Florida sun at the Ponce Inlet Light Station and Museum! Constructed in 1887, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse has guided mariners along the Florida coast for more than 130 years. There are many ways to experience the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum. Visitors can choose to explore the light station on their own using a self-guided tour map with no reservations, elect to schedule a private tour in advance of their arrival, or sign up for one of the museum’s special after hour’s events.
The State of Florida in total has over 1,300 miles of coastline – spanning the eastern shore beside the Atlantic coast, around the keys and into the Gulf of Mexico. In the 19th Century, lighthouses were built using a new technology developed by Augustin-Jean Fresnel who developed a lens that could focus a light source which could be seen over 20 miles from shore. In Central Florida a lighthouse was built which would become known as the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. Standing 175 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Florida. And today, I’m going to take you to the top. I’ll give you a tour of this National Historic Landmark, coming up next.
From downtown Orlando there are many ways to get to Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, but the quickest route is around 65 miles taking just over an hour.
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was completed in October of 1887 and lit for the first time on November 1st. The light station would stay lit until 1970 when the Coast Guard abandoned the old light station and established a new beacon at New Smyrna Beach.
The citizens of Ponce Inlet formed a Lighthouse Preservation Association in 1972 to maintain the lighthouse and form a museum on the property.
In 1982 the light was restored to active service and on August 5, 1998, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark – one of only eleven lighthouses to earn this designation.
Before we climb to the top of the lighthouse, there are fascinating exhibits and buildings to be explored. In fact, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse station is one of the few light stations in the United States with all the original keepers’ dwellings and support buildings intact. In addition to the lighthouse, the grounds and museum comprise 3 three keepers’ dwellings which have been meticulously preserved.
First up, I explored the Principal Keeper’s Dwelling, which is the largest home on property. I noticed an air force beacon on the front porch, and discovered it was used during wartime when the US Coast Guard commandeered the light station for the war effort. Inside the home is a model, kids will enjoy, depicting the construction and restoration of the light station and numerous examples of light beacons in their Reflections on Light exhibit. These beacons were installed in small lighthouses used to guide air mail planes along their flight path, since flying at night was perilous.
Over at the First Assistant Keeper’s home dwelling, I found that it’s not open to visitors. Instead, viewing windows allow us to see how a typical keeper dwelling might have been decorated in the early 1900s.
At the Second Assistant Keeper’s home I found a timeline of the history of the principal keepers at Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. Many exhibits inside tell the story of life at the light station with many artifacts like kitchen utensils and uniforms worn by the lightkeepers, clocks and other devices the lightkeepers used to track time and weather. As well as an exhibit on what life was like as a child of a lightkeeper at the station.
The museum has a Video Theater that was once used as a Woodshed for firewood and other supplies. A video runs continuously, and the 20-minute presentation is a good way to learn the history of the light station.
As I mentioned before, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was commandeered during World War II by the Coast Guard. During this time a radio beacon was built to house equipment to guide coastal shipping during the war. I found an amazing recreation of the radio beacon station, along with weather monitoring equipment and artifacts from the war era.
Next to the lighthouse tower is the Lens Exhibit Building that displays a collection of lighthouse lenses including two fully restored first order Fresnel lenses and examples of navigational aids, beacons and other captivating artifacts that were used at light stations from the nineteenth through mid-twentieth century.
It was time to ascend the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse tower. Entering the tower, I immediately became aware of just how dizzying 203 steps on what seems like an endless spiral staircase can be. But I was up for the challenge, eager to see the view from the top. Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in the nation. It’s 175 feet straight up and thankfully there are windows along the path where I could enjoy the view or just catch my breath. I kept thinking what it must have been like carrying a heavy five-gallon fuel can filled with kerosene to keep the beacon lit each night.
Finally, near the top, there is the last flight of narrow stairs that takes you to the observation deck. Peeking out past the door I was greeted with the breathtaking view at the top.
The lighthouse offers a 360-degree view of Ponce Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an amazing sight you must see in person.
Thanks to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association, the lighthouse continues illuminating the way into a 3rd century.
I’m glad you made it to the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse with me. I say this often, but make plans to visit this national historic landmark, the next time you visit Orlando.