Alligator Reef Lighthouse

Matecumbe Key, Florida - 1873 (1873**)

Picture of Alligator Reef Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2000-05-14.

Its name may be Alligator Reef, but there are no alligators near here. This reef got its name from the schooner USS Alligator. This schooner was to be used by captain William H. Allen to help fight the rampant piracy that was going on in the Florida Keys. Her demise was met as the Alligator was escorting several vessels recovered from pirates back to Norfolk, Virginia. From accounts that I have read, it seems like the vessels got split up and it was at this point that the Alligator struck the reef. The crew stayed with the vessel for three days until the Anna Maria had returned looking for the Alligator. (Anna Maria being one of the ships that the Alligator was escorting.)

Lieutenant Dale, Captain of the USS Alligator, had ordered all US Government property off the ship and loaded onto the Anna Maria. This was hard for Dale and the crew of the Alligator because the previous captain of the ship, William Allen was killed in the line of duty only two weeks prior while fighting pirates. The ship was then ordered to be set afire. Shortly after, it exploded and sank. This wasn't a great alternative, but Dale didn't want to leave anything that would be of use to the pirates. The date was November 21, 1822.

After many more shipwrecks, the Light House Board had recommended that a lighthouse should be erected to mark the entire reef. This event took place in 1857, but it would be many more years before a lighthouse would be built. The lighthouse would be put on hold during the Civil War and efforts were put forth again in the late 1860s. Finally, in July of 1870, the Light House Board got the appropriations from Congress. By November of 1873, the Alligator Reef lighthouse was completed and flashing its white and red light.

The lighthouse has withstood numerous hurricanes and gales including the hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935. This brought a 20 foot high wave barreling down on the lighthouse and completely destroyed Upper Matecombe Key. The next major hurricane to hit the Alligator Key lighthouse would be Hurricane Donna in 1960. It was reported to not be as bad as the one that hit in 1935, but the keepers still reported that the waves violently shook the tower all night. The lighthouse was automated several years later in 1963. The lighthouse is closed to the public, but it still shines each night.

Directions: The best way to view this light is by boat. However, if you can only photograph it by land, then the best spot is at mile marker 77. Mile marker 77 is just over the bridge that puts you onto Lower Matecumbe Key. You will start seeing the lighthouse around mile marker 80, but 77 is definitely the best position. The lighthouse is still quite a ways out into the ocean, so a telephoto is almost necessary. I used a 1000mm, and it is still a distant shot.

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