Photographer: Keith W. Churill
Day-mark: white w/ black
base and lantern room
4 miles East of Indian Key, FL
Boat - many rental and charter services
locally available, Car - distant view from U.S. 1
between mile larkers 77 and 80. Best viewing near mile marker 79,
approximately 1 mile West of the Table Channel bridge. This
bridge connects Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys with the light
approximately 4 mile Southeast.
History: In 1821, the United States gained
control of Florida from Spain. A small fleet of U.S. Navy gunboats
then started patrolling Florida's coastline to put a stop to early
19th century African Slave Traders and the Pirates that terrorized
many merchant shipping vessels. The reef this lighthouse sits upon
received it's name from one of these Navy gunboats - the U.S.S.
Alligator. The 12 gun, 198-ton schooner foundered just South of
Islamorada on November 18, 1822. The sailors tried for three days
to free her from the Southwest end of Carysford Reef with no
success. The vessel was then destroyed to prevent it's pillaging
from wandering buccaneers. For several years following, President
James Monroe ordered a strong Naval presence in the area, removing
the threat of high-seas terror. Navigational Aids along the
dangerous coastline would not come to be for another 50 years
during which countless vessels sank on the reef's jagged edge. The
need for a lighthouse in the area near Indian Key was formally
proposed by the U.S. Lighthouse Board in 1857.
Photo courtesy of: U.S. Coast
joining the Confederacy in 1862, the Civil War postponed the
appropriation of funds for the project until 1870. Construction of the
lighthouse on Alligator Reef finally began in 1871.
A shallow area of
the reef, only 4 feet deep, was chosen approximately 4 miles East of
Indian Key. A temporary work platform was installed and a 2,000-pound
steam operated hammer was used to drive the ten, 12" diameter iron
pilings approximately ten feet into the coral to support the tower. The
iron piles were then firmly anchored with a concrete foundation within a
cast iron collar. The completed skeletal tower has a total height of 134
feet and supports a square keeper's dwelling 20 feet above the water. A
central iron cylinder houses an iron spiral staircase that leads to the
watch room and lantern room. The lantern room contains a First Order,
Bi-valve Fresnel lens which emits an alternating white and red beacon.
The lighthouse was also equipped with a fog signal
completion exceeded the initial appropriation of funds by $85,000
with a total of $185,000.
2, 1935, this lighthouse survived one of the most violent
hurricanes to ever hit the United States. Creating a devastating
20 foot storm surge, monstrous waves and 200 mile per hour winds,
this "Labor Day Hurricane" took approximately 400 lives with it's
passing. The storm produced a still standing western hemisphere
record of a 26.35 inch barometric pressure drop. The light
survived the storm because of it's narrow profile. All but one
window was destroyed by the winds and debris from the Long Key
viaduct was scattered among the keeper's dwelling platform.
In 1963, the
U.S. Coast Guard automated the lightstation. It still operates
today as an active Aid to Navigation with an alternating white and
red beacon along with a fog signal.
Photographer: Keith W.