With our third entry in the Coasting series based upon our stay in St. Augustine, we have this maybe-because-we’re-old-folks revelation: You don’t have to climb to the top to enjoy the St. Augustine Lighthouse! Really? you might say in disbelief. You couldn’t even make it 219 steps for a glimpse of the nation’s oldest port and the beach and the city?
Well, sometimes you just can’t do it all when you travel. Or you’re not able. Or just not inclined. But you can make the most of what you see.
So what’d you do if you didn’t climb up? you might ask. And we’d answer: Try this!
1. Stand back and look up.
At 126 years old, the St. Augustine Light is just one of six Florida lights open to the
public. We loved the barber-shop swirls in black and white — its daymark, we learned. A daymark allows mariners to establish their location during daylight hours just by seeing the unique marking or paint on any given lighthouse. If you were to see these swirls, you’d know you were at St. Augustine.
On the other hand, a nightmark is the timing of a lighthouse’s flashing signal that identifies this and only this one particular beacon for seagoing vessels. Before the automation in place today, the St. Augustine Lighthouse was known for this nightmark: one bright flash every three minutes, a pattern that existed for 62 years.
2. Go inside. Read. Take pictures.
Pretty impressive were the displays of artifacts housed in the lighthouse museum, the little house with the red roof. From the history of shipwrecks to discussions of archaeological finds, the museum collections tell the story well. (Read the lighthouse story here.)
You can also peer into the stairwell for patterns and photo-ops or just chat with the ones who made it to the top and back. You can even ask a ranger about the paranormal tour — Dark of the Moon — that will take you to the top for a moonlight view of St. Augustine.
3. Visit the Harns where they used to live.
In the setting of an actual lightkeeper’s home in the 1880s, learn about the family of William Harn, the first long-term St. Augustine Lighthouse keeper (1875-1889). Sit in the Victorian parlor, read about the six daughters in the Harn family, or try your hand at some of the interactive games. At Home with the Harns helps you imagine what it would be like to live onsite and maintain a lighthouse day in and day out.
4. Watch artisans at work.
We’re not sure how many artisans ply their trade in an area to the right of the lighthouse or even which days of the week. But we could see one artisan scrutinizing an old piece for cleaning and repair.
Fascinating indeed was one finely crafted boat sitting under cover where we could examine the dovetailed joints and braces holding pieces together. Digging through the St. Augustine Lighthouse website revealed this information: Three mornings per week (Tuesdays through Thursdays), volunteer craftsmen build traditional wooden boats.
And according to the site: Using an old steamer box to soften the wood, each board is carefully molded into the keel, ribs and planking of a functioning vessel. Once a year, a completed boat is auctioned off to raise money for the maritime preservation and educational programs at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.
5. And then just envy those who climb.
OK. So we really wanted to climb. Just couldn’t make it on the day of our trip. We looked up. Then waved. Then said, We oughta come back. That view is bound to be worth the stairs!!!
Whether you ascend the light or remain grounded, the St. Augustine Lighthouse won’t disappoint. So here’s what we say: Travel at your own place. But make the most of any adventure, no matter when you go.
Have you been to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse? If so, tell us what we missed. We’d love to know what you saw!
Thanks for Coasting with us,
Bert and Rusha
For more information:
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, 100 Red Cox Rd., St. Augustine, FL 32080; 904-829-0745; http://www.staugustinelighthouse.org/
Hours, tours, and events: http://www.staugustinelighthouse.org/visit/main
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/staugustinelighthouse