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The History of the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse

Photo by Corey Seeman on Flickr.

The Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, also known as the Charleston Light, is a beacon of maritime safety that proudly stands at the northern entrance of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. Its story began as a replacement for the Morris Island Lighthouse, which faced the threat of erosion.

This need for a safer location led to the birth of the Sullivan’s Island Light. The Morris Island Light received stabilization in 2010, securing its place in history alongside its successor (for now).

Construction and Features

The construction of Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse kicked off in 1960 and reached completion with its first lighting on June 15, 1962.

This 140-foot-tall lighthouse, with its robust steel frame and aluminum alloy skin, presents a unique triangular cross-section. It was designed to endure winds of up to 125 mph, ensuring its resilience against nature’s wrath.

Initially, the lighthouse showcased a white and red-orange color scheme, but public opinion later swayed its colors to white and black.

Technical Specifications

Equipped with a DCB 24 light, the lighthouse originally shone with a staggering 28 million candelas. However, due to its overwhelming brightness, this intensity was reduced to a more manageable 1.2 million candelas.

The light of Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse reaches over 26 nautical miles, flashing two 0.2-second bursts every 30 seconds.

An advancement in 1975 automated the lighthouse, marking a new era in its operation.

Historical and Governmental Significance

Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse holds the distinction of being the last onshore manned lighthouse constructed by the Federal Government.

Notably, it is the only U.S. lighthouse that includes both an elevator and air conditioning, features that underline its uniqueness.

It forms part of the U.S. Coast Guard Historic District within the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park.

In 2007, ownership of the lighthouse transitioned to the National Park System, although the Coast Guard continues to oversee its maintenance.

Public Accessibility and Current Status

Today, the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse remains an operational beacon but is not open to the public due to structural concerns.

However, its surrounding grounds and an adjacent public beach offer ample opportunities for visitors to view and appreciate this historic maritime sentinel.