Have you ever stayed overnight at a lighthouse? Well, Tanya and Jay hadn’t. So, when we got the chance to stay a couple of nights in a 100+ year old lighthouse keeper’s cottage along the east coast of Florida we jumped at the opportunity. This was early last month and just prior to taking our latest transatlantic voyage back to Deutschland. Our ship was scheduled to depart from Ft. Lauderdale and rather than staying at some local Holiday Inn before we sailed, we looked for something a bit more interesting. We found it.
The Hillsboro Lighthouse sits at the entrance to Hillsboro Inlet, roughly midway between Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton and was built in 1906. The lighthouse still operates nightly, casting its 550,000 candle power rotating beam over the Atlantic. Even though the actual operation of the lighthouse has been fully automated since 1974, the US Coast Guard still maintains three lighthouse keeper houses on the lighthouse grounds for guests and we were able to snag one of them for two nights.
The lighthouse has an interesting history. Made of iron, the tower was built in 1905/1906 by the Russel Wheel and Foundry Company of Detroit. In 1907, the whole thing was disassembled and moved to the Hillsboro Inlet and put together again, ready to start operation in 1909. The structure is held together with bolts, rather than welding, which made the process a little easier. Kind of like a giant erector set.
The 9-foot, 3,600 pound fresnel lens was built in France, is still in use and projects one of the most powerful lighthouse beams in the world, well over 30 miles out. And sure enough, just a little bit before dusk each night, the light starts its nightly rotation. We weren’t bothered by the beam, but we weren’t so sure about the residents of some high-rise apartments across the inlet. Every 20 seconds or so, their windows are illuminated by those half million candles, but apparently a landward baffle has been installed on the lens to cut down the light as it shines over land. But still….
Most fascinating however was how the lighthouse operated in its early years. Electricity wasn’t even brought to this area of Florida until 1932. So, the light rotated by a gear mechanism driven by a weight on ropes, just like a grandfather clock. Except the weight had to be hand-cranked every 90 minutes or so. The light itself was originally an incandescent oil vapor lamp, fueled with kerosene. Several times each night the lighthouse keeper had to haul kerosene up the 175 steps to refuel the lamp.
Fortunately for us, conditions for our stay didn’t include cranking or kerosene hauling and at the end of our stay we were back on our way back to Europe.