St. Marks Lighthouse - St. Marks, Florida
St. Marks Lighthouse - St. Marks, Florida
St. Marks Lighthouse
The lighthouse has guided ships into the mouth of
Florida's St. Marks River since 1832. It has survived
war, hurricanes and the passage of time.
St. Marks Lighthouse
The top of the historic St.
Marks Lighthouse peers
through the tops of oak and
palm trees.
St. Marks Lighthouse
The historic tower stands on
the shore of Apalachee Bay in
the St. Marks National Wildlife
St. Marks Lighthouse - St. Marks, Florida
Silent Sentinel of St. Marks
Copyright 2013 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Updated: September 14, 2013
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The Big Bend of Florida
Survivor of the Civil War
The lighthouse tower was
used as a lookout by
Confederate forces posted to
defend the port of St. Marks.
Fort Williams stood near its
One of the most photographed landmarks on
Florida's "Big Bend" coast, the St. Marks
Lighthouse has overlooked the waters of
Apalachee Bay since 1832.

The mouth of the St. Marks River was one of
the most dangerous ports in Florida during
the early 19th century. Shallow water and
shoals caused numerous shipwrecks and
the U.S. government authorized the
construction of the lighthouse to assist ships
in navigating the dangerous coast.

The lower St. Marks provided water access to
the port communities of
St. Marks and Port
Leon. The latter was a prosperous town until
it was destroyed by hurricane during the
1840s, shortly after the construction of the St.
Marks Lighthouse. The site is now located
deep in the marshes of the St. Marks
National Wildlife Refuge.

By the time of the Civil War, St. Marks was a
small but active port that served Florida's
capital city of Tallahassee. One of the
nation's first railroads connected the two
towns, carrying passengers and commerce
back and forth from Tallahassee to the coast.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Confederate
forces darkened the light so it would not
assist the Union blockade ships operating
offshore. The tower, however, took on new
life as the centerpiece of a Southern military

An artillery battery named Fort Williams was
constructed on the shore near the lighthouse
and Confederate soldiers used the tower as
an observation platform to watch for
threatening activity by the Union ships

It was soon decided, however, that Fort
Williams was too exposed. The guns were
moved up the river to a new battery built on
the site of the old Spanish fort of San Marcos
de Apalache. Sentries were maintained at
the lighthouse site, however, although the
Union navy destroyed the abandoned fort and
did some damage to the tower.

During the spring of 1865, the St. Marks
Lighthouse played a critical role in the last
significant Southern victory of the Civil War,
Battle of Natural Bridge.

Union troops began coming ashore here on
the night of March 3, 1865, fighting with
Confederate forces for control of the nearby
East River Bridge. They planned to take Fort
Ward (San Marcos de Apalache) at St. Marks
and Tallahassee before marching on to the
Confederate prison camp at Thomasville,

Confederate resistance proved stiffer than
expected, however, and fighting took place
within view of the lighthouse on March 4th as
Southern cavalry under Major William Henry
Milton drove the Union advance troops back
to the beach from East River.

Additional federal troops came ashore and
the main advance began on the morning of
March 5, 1865. Despite initial success at
East River Bridge, Union general John
Newton soon found himself stymied at
Newport Bridge. Confederate soldiers tore
up the planking and then swept the bridge
approaches with musket fire to prevent
Newton's troops from repairing the span and
crossing the St. Marks River.
The Union column turned north in search of
another way across the St. Marks, but the
expedition ended in disaster for them at the
Battle of Natural Bridge. Newton's badly
bloodied force was back at the lighthouse by
the afternoon of March 7, 1865.

A naval attack launched up the St. Marks
River in conjunction with the land movement
also failed. The Union warships had such
difficulty navigating the narrow channel that
they never moved within range of the cannon
of Fort Ward.

The lighthouse was returned to service after
the war and continues to serve as a
navigational landmark to this day.

The tower is now a popular with visitors to
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and is
one of the most photographed spots on the
coast of Florida's "Big Bend" region.

Although the tower itself is not open to the
public, the grounds are a popular spot for
sightseeing and picnics. There is an
observation platform, historic marker and
trails leading along the coast of Apalachee
Bay. The view is spectacular.

The lighthouse area is focal point for the
amazing annual monarch butterfly migration.
Tens of thousands of butterflies gather here
each October to begin their long flight across
the Gulf of Mexico.

The St. Marks Lighthouse is located at the
end of Lighthouse Road in the main area of
the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The
entrance fee is $5 per vehicle ($1 for
bicyclists and pedestrians). Annual permits
are available for $15.

The address for the visitor center is 1255
Lighthouse Road, St. Marks, Florida.
click here for a printable map.

To learn more about the St. Marks area,
please follow these links:
Silent Sentinel of St. Marks
The lighthouse grounds can
be visited daily via the main
entrance of the St. Marks
National Wildlife Refuge. The
beacon remains in use.