Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 13, 1861 - Key West Lighthouse, Florida

Key West Lighthouse
January 13, 1861

As the Southern states seceded, as many coastal facilities as possible were seized by state forces. Such targets included the lighthouses that dotted the Southern coastline.

Southern forces seized most of the lighthouses and very few remained in Union hands throughout the war. One of these was the Key West Lighthouse in Key West, Florida. Built in 1847-1849 to replace an earlier structure that had been destroyed by a hurricane, the lighthouse was one of two that guided ships through the treacherous waters around Key West.

Because the U.S. Army never gave up Key West and the South never launched a major effort to take the island, the Key West Lighthouse continued to operate during the war years, when virtually every other lighthouse on the Southern coast was darkened to prevent Union warships from using them to assist in navigation.

The only confrontation that took place over the Key West Lighthouse, in fact, involved not soldiers but its cantankerous keeper, 92-year-old Barbara Mabrity. She had served as keeper of the light since it was built in the 1840s (and of the previous tower as well) and had spent 32 years of her life on the U.S. payroll. During the war, however, she infuriated local officials by making comments against the Union. Mabrity was fired and replaced as a result of those comments.

If you would like to learn more of the history of the Key West Lighthouse, please visit

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