Pensacola Light

The Pensacola Light is a lighthouse at Pensacola Bay, in Florida. It is the third iteration of what was originally a lightship, the Aurora Borealis, and remains an aid to navigation.

Pensacola Light
The second Pensacola Lighthouse, date unknown
LocationEntrance to Pensacola Bay
Coordinates30°20′47″N 87°18′29″W / 30.3464°N 87.3081°W / 30.3464; -87.3081
Constructed1858 Edit this on Wikidata
Constructiongranite (foundation), brick (tower) Edit this on Wikidata
Automated1965 Edit this on Wikidata
Height150 ft (46 m) Edit this on Wikidata
Shapeconical Edit this on Wikidata
HeritageNational Register of Historic Places listed place Edit this on Wikidata
Focal height190 ft (58 m) Edit this on Wikidata
Lensfirst order Fresnel lens Edit this on Wikidata
Range27 nmi (50 km; 31 mi) Edit this on Wikidata
CharacteristicFl W 20s Edit this on Wikidata
First tower Edit this at Wikidata
Constructed1824 Edit this on Wikidata
Height40 ft (12 m) Edit this on Wikidata
LensArgand lamp with parabolic reflectors
Pensacola lightship
Aurora Borealis
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First lit1823 Edit this on Wikidata
Pensacola Bar Beacon Edit this at Wikidata
The Pensacola Bar Beacon, with the Pensacola Lighthouse in the background
Constructed1879 Edit this on Wikidata
Constructionlumber Edit this on Wikidata
Height26 ft (7.9 m) Edit this on Wikidata
Shapesquare pyramid Edit this on Wikidata
Deactivated1900s Edit this on Wikidata
Focal height55 ft (17 m) Edit this on Wikidata
Lenssixth order Fresnel lens Edit this on Wikidata
Range11 nmi (20 km; 13 mi) Edit this on Wikidata
CharacteristicF W Edit this on Wikidata
Pensacola Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters
Arealess than one acre
Built1859 (1859)
NRHP reference No.74000622[1]
Added to NRHPJuly 15, 1974


The first Pensacola Light was the lightship Aurora Borealis. It was moved to Pensacola in 1823 from its previous post at the mouth of the Mississippi River after a lighthouse had been completed there. Because of frequent rough seas, the lightship had to be anchored inside the bay entrance, behind Santa Rosa Island, and could not reliably be seen from ships outside the bay.


In 1825 a 40-foot (12 m) tower was built on a 40-foot (12 m) bluff at the south entrance to Pensacola Bay. This light was also partially obscured by trees close to the tower and on Santa Rosa Island. In 1858 a new tower was built on the north side of the bay entrance, and was lit on January 1, 1859. The new, and current, tower is 150 feet (46 m) tall, and also sits on a 40-foot (12 m) bluff located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station, placing the light 190 feet (58 m) above sea level.

The current Pensacola Lighthouse

The new location allowed the tower to serve as the rear range light marking the passage across the Pensacola Bar. Little is known of the first front range light. In 1879 a new front range beacon was erected 448 feet (137 m) southeast of the light tower. This light, known as the Pensacola Bar Beacon, was a square pyramidal wooden tower, 26 feet (7.9 m) tall, sitting on a point 29 feet (8.8 m) above sea level, so that the light was 55 feet (17 m) above the water. It had a sixth order Fresnel lens, and showed a fixed white light visible for 11 miles (18 km). The Pensacola Bar Beacon was removed from service and demolished some time in the early 1900s.

At the start of the Civil War, Pensacola was controlled by Confederate forces, while Fort Pickens across the bay remained in Union hands. Confederate authorities removed the lens from the lighthouse, and most of the lighthouse supplies were requisitioned for the war effort. In November 1861 an artillery duel between the two forces damaged the lighthouse tower.

Confederate forces later evacuated Pensacola, and were replaced by Union forces. In 1863 the Pensacola Light was relit using a fourth-order Fresnel lens. A new first-order lens was placed in the tower in 1869. The tower was all white during the Civil War. Later, the upper two-thirds of the tower was painted black. Electricity was introduced to the lighthouse in 1939, eliminating the need to rewind the light rotation clockworks every 4½ hours. The light was automated in 1965. The lighthouse tower and associated buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[1]

Lighthouse keeper cleaning the lens of the Lighthouse, circa 1960.

In 1989, the lighthouse and keeper's quarters were listed in A Guide to Florida's Historic Architecture, published by the University of Florida Press.[2]

Present dayEdit

The Pensacola Light remains an active aid to navigation. The Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 17 had provided tours of the lighthouse, but they were discontinued in 2007. As of 2009, the lighthouse reopened on a limited basis for public tours, and since early 2011 it has been open 7 days a week.[3] Maintenance and tour operations are currently conducted by the Pensacola Lighthouse Association. The 1869 keeper's quarters, adjacent to the lighthouse tower, houses a museum and gift shop also administered by the Pensacola Lighthouse Association. The Association is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit, with a small staff and a large volunteer base.[4]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. November 2, 2013.
  2. ^ A Guide to Florida's Historic Architecture, 1989, Gainesville: University of Florida Press, p. 7, ISBN 0-8130-0941-3
  3. ^ Pensacola Lighthouse, Florida
  4. ^ Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum


External linksEdit