History

(912) 786-5801

The History of the Lighthouse

Ordered by General James Oglethorpe, Governor of the 13th colony, in 1732, the Tybee Island Light Station has been guiding mariners safe entrance into the Savannah River for over 270 years. The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America's most intact having all of its historic support buildings on its five-acre site. Rebuilt several times the current light station displays its 1916 day mark with 178 stairs and a First Order Fresnel lens (nine feet tall)

Under the direction of Noble Jones of Wormsloe Plantation, work began on the first lighthouse built on Tybee. It was constructed in 1736. It was octagonal in shape and was constructed of brickwork and cedar piles. Standing ninety feet tall, it was the tallest structure of its kind in America at that time.

Unfortunately, storms took their toll on Tybee’s first lighthouse. Five years after its completion, a new lighthouse was commissioned. While work was progressing on a new lighthouse, a storm swept the old lighthouse away in August 1741.

In 1742, the second lighthouse built on Tybee was completed. It was described by Oglethorpe as “much the best building of that kind in America.” It was different from its predecessor, standing ninety-four feet with a flagstaff which ran from the nave to the top of the beacon. In 1748, the sea was within thirty feet of the lighthouse. A full time pilot was hired to assist vessels coming into the river.

Piles were driven into the sand to support the foundations. Unfortunately that is when the sea started to encroach, going right up to the very door of the lighthouse. A new lighthouse was needed and time was running out.

In 1768, with the sea lapping at the foundation of the lighthouse, the Georgia Assembly authorized a new lighthouse to be built. This time a site well removed from the sea was chosen and the light was completed in early 1773. The 100 foot tall brick and wood structure was lit with spermaceti candles. (Spermaceti is a waxy,, white substance from a sperm whale’s skull).. The lighthouse was ceded to the Federal Government about 1790, after Georgia ratified the Constitution and became part of the United States. The U.S. Lighthouse Establishment then took over the operation of the lighthouse

In 1862, a major portion of the lighthouse was destroyed when Confederate troops from Fort Pulaski set fire to the tower in order to prevent the Federal troops from using it to guide their ships into port.

After the Civil War, the Lighthouse Establishment began work on rebuilding the Tybee Light. The lower sixty feet of the old lighthouse was still intact, and it was decided to add to the existing structure instead of starting from the ground up. The new lighthouse was to be a first order station, consisting of masonry and metal only and was completely fireproof. This is the lighthouse that stands today.

30 Meddin Dr, Tybee Island, GA 31328 (MAP)
PO Box 366 Tybee Island, GA 31328
Phone: (912) 786-5801 Fax: (912) 786-6538 Gift Shop: (912) 786-5877
The lighthouse and catwalk are subject to closure when adverse weather conditions occur.