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St. Marks Lighthouse

Between 1828 and 1831, Congress appropriated $20,000 for building a lighthouse at St. Marks, Florida. The contract for the building was given to Winslow Lewis of Boston who built it for $11,765.

Viewed from sea, it is easy to see why a lighthouse was needed here. With a low coast and many trees, and many oyster banks and shoals, it was important that the entrance to the river be clearly marked.

St. Marks Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in Florida with wooden stairs. The stairs are connected to a large wooden pole (it looks almost like a ship's mast) that stands in the center of the tower. Close examination of the stairs and center post shows that the stairs are attached by nails. A rope handrail was provided for use on the outside of the tower. The windows in the tower are square. They are protected with stout wooden shutters. There is a small watchroom landing at the top of the wooden stairs. From the watchroom to the lantern room, a short flight of narrow metal stairs leads up to a small metal trap door.

The actual builders were Benjamin Beal and Jairus Thayer. The superintendent of Lights for the District of Magnolia refused to accept the lighthouse as completed in March, 1830 and charged the builders with deliberate fraud against the United States Government. Arbitrators were appointed to examine the lighthouse, and the walls were found to be hollow instead of solid as called for in the contract.

The tower was rebuilt by Calvin Knowlton. The reconstruction was completed January 29, 1831. Samuel Crosby was appointed the first keeper January 18, 1830, and entered duty in the middle of February, 1830.

During the Seminole War the Samuel Crosby, the lighthouse keeper, requested a guard be established to protect the lighthouse from Indian attack. Stephen Pleasonton, General Superintendent of the Lighthouse Service, refused to approve of the guard or to comply with a request that a vessel be provided for the keeper in which he and his family might escape should the Indians attack.

The St. Marks Lighthouse was constantly battered by storms and hurricanes. In 1842 it was removed to a more secure position and a new tower was built by Calvin Knowlton. As a result of damage done by a gale on September 17, 1843, a contract for a new keeper's dwelling was made with David Carey of Fall River, Massachusetts, and a contract for a sea wall was given to Francis A. Gibbons, of Baltimore, Maryland, in 1844.

During the Civil War, the Confederates, in an attempt to blow up the lighthouse, seriously damaged the base of the tower. The work of re-establishing the light, which had been extinguished by the Confederates, was begun in September 1866, and the light was re-lighted on January 8, 1867.

The 2,000 candlepower flashing light is visible for 15 miles, shining from the top of the white conical tower, 82 feet above the water, and 80 feet above the ground. It is located on the North side of Apalachee Bay, on the east side of the entrance to the St. Marks River.

Gulf Specimen Marine Lab:     Visit Gulf Specimen Web Site

Most of us have never seen what really lives in the ocean - tiny green shrimp and scarlet sponges, crystal and glittering jelly fish. At Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory, you get a better sense of the enormous diversity of life on earth. Unlike most large public acuaria that emphasize porpoises and big fishes, they focus on sea horses, hermit crabs, emerald eyed spiny box fish, red and white spotted calico crabs -- all endless living treasures of the North Florida Wilderness Coast.

Water bubbles and flows in a swirl that sustains our unique collection of the bizarre and the beautiful. Seahorses hide in the seaweed, their black and bronze hads dusted with gold flecks. Starfish glide effrtlessly over the sand and sometimes an octopus will come out of its burrow. Red hermit crabs with bright blue eyes carry waving sea anemones on their shells.

Together with animals that look like plants and plants unlike any on land, they challenge our concept of what it means to be an animal, what it means to be alive!

Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory has been in the business of supplying marine animals and developing specialized aquarium systems for more than 25 years. The marine biological supply division supports the laboratory, provides a constant flow of animals coming through the lab, and creates an exhibit that is constantly changing. A variety of invertebrates, fishes and algae are routinely collected and sold to schools and laboratories. It's never the same twice.

Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory is 30 miles and 45 minutes from Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida. Take US 319 south to US 98 west to Panacea.

Hours; Monday through Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sunday 12:00 - 4 p.m.


San Marcos de Apalache:  Visit San Marcos de Apalachee Website

The past four centuries numerous New World travelers have staked their claim at historic San Marcos de Apalache. The site's history began in 1528 when Panfilo de Narvaez arrived with 300 men. Having traveled overland from Tampa, Narvaez, impressed by the area located in historic St. Marks at the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers , built and launched the first ships made by white men in the New World.

In 1539, Hernando de Soto, along with 600 men, followed the same route taken by Narvaez. Banners were hung in the trees near the river to easily mark the river's entrance. (A lighthouse now stands near the site.)

By 1679, the Spanish Governor of Florida started construction on the first fort built at the junction of the two rivers. The logs used were coated with lime to give the appearance of stone. The fort stood only three years, then was burned and looted by pirates. Not until 1718 did Captain Jose Primo de Ribera arrive to construct a second wooden fort.

Construction was begun on the first stone fort in 1739. Progress was slow, and the fort was less than half complete when it was given over to the English in 1763 as a result of the war with Spain.

By 1787, Spain regained control of the fort, reoccupying it for 13 more years. Spanish rule was challenged in 1800 by a former British officer named William Augustus Bowles. Bowles attempted to unify and lead an independent Creek nation of 400 Indians against the Spanish, eventually capturing San Marcos. His rule ended five weeks later when the Spanish returned with a flotilla of nine ships to retake the fort.

Because of continuous Indian raids into Georgia from Spanish Florida, General Andrew Jackson invaded the territory in 1818 and took San Marcos. Two captured British citizens, Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, were tried and found guilty of inciting Indian raids. Jackson executed both of the men, creating a diplomatic crisis between the United States and Great Britain.
Jackson then withdrew from San Marcos, leaving the fort once again in Spanish hands.

In 1821, Florida was ceded to the United States, and U.S. troops were sent to occupy the fort. Three years later, the fort was abandoned and turned over to the Territory of Florida. By 1839, the fort was returned to the U.S. Government and construction of a federal marine hospital began 18 years later utilizing stones from the spanish fort. The hospital, which was finished in a year, provided much needed care for victims of yellow fever.

The final confrontation at San Marcos occurred in 1861 when the Confederates took the fort, renaming it Fort Ward. A Union squadron blockaded the mouth of the St. Marks River from 1861 until 1865. The Battle of Natural Bridge eventually
stopped the Union force that apparently intended to advance onto the fort from the rear.

A well marked trail complete with informative brochure now takes visitors on a journey through the historic fortification ruins. A visitor center containing exhibits and artifacts covering the area's history is built on the foundation of the old marine hospital. The historic site and visitor center are open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Picnic areas are provided.

San Marcos de Apalache State Historic Site is located in St. Marks , off State Road 363.

Natural Bridge:   Natural Bridge Website

Natural Bridge is an area where the water suddenly runs underground for a few feet and rises again, forming a natural bridge. During the final weeks of the Civil War,the Battle of Natural Bridge preserved Tallahassee as the only Confederate capitol east of the Mississippi River never to fall into Union hands. The five-day battle ended with a group of old men and young boys defeating the seasoned Union troops.

The Battle of Natural Bridge is re-enacted every year in March on a weekend near the anniversary of the actual battle. Visitors can view authentic Confederate and Union encampments.

In March of 1865, a Union flotilla arrived in Apalachicola Bay. General John Newton and Naval Commander William Gibson had a joint assault plan in mind to cripple the Confederate forces. On March 3, Union seamen surprised Confederate pickets and captured the East River Bridge, four miles north of the St. Marks lighthouse. The following day, Navy gunboats commanded by Gibson ran aground in the shallow waters of the St. Marks River. Gibson spent the next two days desperately trying to get upstream to Port Leon but was unsuccessful.

Gibson's unexpected delay provided just enough time for a Confederate messenger to travel to Tallahassee and warn the citizens of the danger to the Capitol caused by the Union landing. In an effort to defend the Capitol, every man and boy who could bear arms volunteered to join the thin ranks of the Confederate Army. The forces were made up of wounded confederate soldiers home to recuperate, men as old as 70 and cadets as young as 14 from West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University). The Confederate troops, commanded by General William Miller, were taken to New Port to prepare a defense.

On March 5, Union General Newton advanced past the East River Bridge, causing Confederate troops from the Fifth Cavalry to withdraw to the New Port Bridge on the St. Marks River. The Confederate cavalry was joined by the volunteers from Tallahassee here and gained enough strength to force Newton to take a circuitious route to Natural Bridge. General William Miller had second-guessed Newton's intentions and sent Confederate forces under Lt. Colonel George Scott on an overnight march to defend the crossing at Natural Bridge.

In the pre-dawn hours of the following day, a series of skirmishes lasting about 10 hours occurred along the narrow natural bridge. Confederate forces, made up of 500 to 700 men, fought off three major attacks and several minor attempts by Union forces of nearly equivalent strength. The Union troops, having decided that the bridge was impassable, began a hasty retreat.

By sundown on March 7, Union soldiers were in the protection of their own fleet. Union General Newton, feeling that he had not been adequately supported by the Navy, took his troops back to Key West. Union losses totaled 21 killed, 89 wounded and 38 captured. Confederate losses were three killed and 22 wounded.

Natural Bridge State Historic Site is located six miles east of Woodville, off State Road 363. Picnic areas are provided.
For more information, contact:
Natural Bridge State Historic Site
c/o San Marcos de Apalache State Historic Site
Post Office Box 27
St. Marks, Florida 32355
850.925.6216

 

 

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