Sand Key Lighthouse

South of Key West, Florida - 1853 (1826**)

Photo of the Sand Key Lighthouse.

History of the Sand Key Lighthouse

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Sand Key Lighthouse Sand Key Light (Courtesy Coast Guard)

The first Sand Key Lighthouse was built on a sandy shoal about 7 miles to the southwest of Key West in 1827. It would last about 19 years until it was destroyed by a hurricane in October of 1846. From what I have read, this was supposed to have been a monstrous storm. Accounts of the story had read that the barometer at the lightstation had dropped so low that keeper Joshua Appleby would have thought that it was broken. It was also at this time that he had his daughter and her three year old son, her friend and her stepchild visiting at the time. Their bodies were never found.

I.W.P. Lewis was asked to design the new Sand Key Lighthouse. The tower was built in Charleston, South Carolina. It took over 450 tons of iron to build the structure, which was then taken apart and shipped to Key West. Once in Key West, Lewis supervised the installation of the iron piles. Each of the piles would be driven through the sand and ten feet into the underlying coral. After the foundation was in place, funds had run out, so Lewis had no choice but to temporarily stop all operations. The year was 1850.

General George Meade had come on the scene in 1852 when the Carysfort Reef Light was finished. Meade was able to finish the job without incident or loss of life. The lighthouse was put into service on July 20, 1853, and the first head keeper's salary was $550 per year.

This time, the lighthouse was built much sturdier that the previous tower. Mother Nature would put the lighthouse to the test less than three years later. This time, the tower stood strong. The rest of the outbuildings that sat on the island were gone, as well as the island itself. The lightstation was rebuilt again, only to be destroyed again in 1865 by another hurricane.

Five years later, in 1870, something unique would happen. The lighthouse was struck by a hurricane on October 8th, then again by a second hurricane on October 11th. Every couple of years, the lighthouse would be blasted by hurricanes. The keeper would rush everyone into the security of the lighthouse. This continued on until 1941 when the lightstation was automated.

In 1982, the first-order Fresnel lens was removed and replaced by a system that lasted only a year due to its unreliability. Then in 1983, the lighthouse was outfitted with a 300mm optic. This lasted until 1987 when the Coast Guard replaced it with a 190mm beacon. In 1989, the lighthouse caught fire. The keeper's quarters were severely damaged, but engineers deemed the superstructure sound. The keeper's quarters and the interior staircase to the lantern room were completely removed. From what has been read, they will not be rebuilt.

Directions: The lighthouse sits off shore and is visible from the Dry Tortugas National Park Ferry. For more information visit The above picture was taken with a 500mm telephoto lens.

View more Sand Key Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 120.00'
Focal Plane: 105'
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 24.45300 N
*Longitude: -81.87700 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.