Work is expected to begin soon on the third phase of a historic Charleston Harbor lighthouse’s restoration.
The 142-year-old Morris Island Lighthouse, once on the firm ground of its namesake island with a keeper’s house complex, now is surrounded by water and sandbars due to erosion. It’s endured hurricanes, earthquakes and the incessant movement of the ocean.
“We’re getting ready to renovate the tower,” former Save the Light chairperson Al Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to put glass back in it. We’ve got to fix up the ironwork inside of it and we’ve got to stabilize it so it doesn’t crumble while we set there and watch it.”
Save the Light has been working for the past two decades to keep the landmark standing against the ravages of the ocean and time. The group has raised $5 million over the years to first buy the light, protect it, and keep it lit for generations to come.
“It’s a magnificent light,” Hitchcock said.
“It’s just rusting and falling apart while we sit there and watch it,” he said, adding he can see the light from his bed. “The glass has been gone for quite a while in the lantern room. And there’s 203 steps inside that are slowly corroding because they’re made out of cast iron. If we don’t don’t do something to protect them and replace them soon, it’s going to become where we can’t access it anymore.”
This most recent phase marks three of the restoration’s five-stage plan. After purchasing the light from a Columbia man for $75,000 in 1999 and paying off the note six months later, phase one was the installation of a cofferdam around the base of the structure. Phase two included installing concrete micropiles to stabilize the foundation. But Save the Light needs to raise about $4 million more to complete the work for this phase.
“We can do some of the temporary work but we need to raise significant money so we can get everything done,” Hitchcock said.
Save the Light turned over ownership of the property to the State of South Carolina when it was purchased in 1999. Click here for a timeline on the light’s history.
Its lens is on display at the lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort. Two years ago SCE&G engineers designed and installed solar-powered lights in the tower which are lit on special occasions through an app on a cell phone or laptop. When lit, it can be seen as far away as six miles. Folly Beach annexed the light several years ago.
“The Coast Guard doesn’t have a need for this navigational structure anymore. It’s just going to be an icon,” he said. “If we let this lighthouse fall down, shame on the maritime community around Charleston. It’s been so instrumental to everything that’s happened to the Charleston region and this actually is the third lighthouse to occupy this site. So it means so much even though it’s no longer functional. It means so much to our heritage.”
“Our goal is to save it for all the citizens of South Carolina because that’s who it actually belongs to.”
Saturday is National Lighthouse Day. Representatives from Save the Light will spend the afternoon at the functional Charleston Light on Sullivan’s Island. National Lighthouse Day is on the grounds of the US Coast Guard Historic District with family-friendly activities from 12 – 4 pm at 1815 I’On Avenue on Sullivan’s Island.
According to Fort Sumter National Monument, The Historic District represents the evolution of events important in United States maritime history from 1895 to 1962. Commissioned on June 15, 1962 as the last major lighthouse to be built in the United States, Charleston Light replaced the original Charleston harbor light (also known as the Morris Island Lighthouse) which was built in 1876. The unique triangular shape, interior elevator and aluminum siding distinguish it from more traditional lighthouses.