Pensacola Light is a lighthouse located in Pensacola Bay, Florida. This is the third iteration of the original lightship, Aurora Borealis and still remains to aid in navigation. The first Pensacola Light was the Aurora Borealis, a ship that acted as a lighthouse. Lightships such as these are used in water that is too deep and unsuitable for lighthouse construction.
In 1823, the Aurora Borealis was moved from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Pensacola. Due to frequent rough seas, the lightship was anchored inside the bay entrance, behind Santa Rosa Island and could not be seen reliably by ships outside the bay.
In 1824, a 40 ft tower was built on a bluff at the south entrance to Pensacola Bay. The light was partially obstructed by trees close to the tower. In 1858, the new Pensacola Light was built on the north side of the bay entrance. This new (and current) tower is 150 feet tall and sits on a 40 foot bluff on the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
The new location for the Pensacola Light allowed the tower to serve as the rear range light to mark the passage across the Pensacola Bar. The light, known as the Pensacola Bar Beacon, was a 26 ft tall square, pyramidal wooden tower. It sits on a point 29 feet above sea level, making the light 55 ft above sea level. The Pensacola Bar Beacon was demolished during the early 1900s.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Pensacola was controlled by Confederate forces and Fort Pickens, located across the bay, remained to the Union. Confederates removed the lens from the lighthouse, along with supplies that were requisitioned for the war effort. The lighthouse was damaged during an artillery duel between the two forces in November of 1861.
Later, the Confederate forces evacuated Pensacola and were replaced by Union forces. In 1863, the Pensacola Light was relit with a fourth-order Fresnel lens. In 1869, a first-order Fresnel lens was placed in the tower. During the Civil War, the tower was all white. Later on, however, the upper 2/3 was painted black.
In 1939, electricity was introduced to the lighthouse, eliminating the need to rewind the light rotation clockworks every 4 ½ hours. In 1965, the light became automated. In 1974, the lighthouse tower and its associated buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Pensacola Lighthouse Today
The Pensacola Light currently remains as an active aid to navigation. Tours of the lighthouse were provided by the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 17 until 2007 when they were discontinued. However, in 2009 the lighthouse was reopened to public tours on a limited basis, and since 2011, the lighthouse has been open seven days a week. The keeper’s quarters, located adjacent to the lighthouse tower, house a museum and gift shop that are administered by the Pensacola Lighthouse Association, a non-profit with a small staff but a large volunteer base.
If you’re visiting the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, take a 15-minute trip down the road to Rock Bottom Fishing Charters! Not only will you get out on the water to make some great catches, but you can also see some of the beautiful historic landmarks along the Gulf Coast as well as the local wildlife, like dolphins!