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Lighthouse & Keepers Quarters

CIRCA 1825

Historic Marker number 67 is located at 938 Whitehead Street between Truman Avenue and Olivia Street.The United States Navy has had a presence in Key West since 1823, when it established a Naval Base. Almost immediately after the base was established, it became evident that a lighthouse was needed to assure the safe arrival of both military and commercial vessels navigating the shallow, reef-laden waters off the Florida Keys. In 1825, the first lighthouse, a 65-foot tall structure, was built at the shoreline of the island. This location proved fatal. During the Havana Hurricane of 1846, high winds and tidal surge destroyed a majority of the buildings on the island. The lighthouse was washed out to sea along with 14 individuals who had taken refuge in the tower during the storm.Following the devastation, even though dangers to shipping and transportation remained, the U.S Congress was slow to fund the replacement of the lighthouse. Sailing ships and coral reefs have never mixed well. During the 1840 - 1860s an average of one ship per week was wrecked on the reefs surrounding the island.The current lighthouse, which was built in 1848, stands closer to town on ground that is 14' above sea level. When the first lighthouse keeper, Michael Mabrity passed away, his wife Barbara took his place. A female keeper was nearly unheard of during the 19th century. To her credit, she served for 32 years.Over time, congress appropriated additional funding and the Key West Lighthouse underwent a number of upgrades including the installation of a Third Order Fresnel Lens in 1858. As the town expanded and trees reached maturity, the light became obscured. In 1894 an additional 20 feet was added to the tower extending the height and range of the beacon. The lighthouse currently stands at 100' tall.Final upgrades included the addition of the Keeper's Quarters and eventually the electrification of the light.In 1969, the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the Key West Lighthouse with the advent of advanced technology eliminating the need for a full-time Keeper.Today, this sentinel of the sea stands as a museum dedicated to Key West's maritime heritage and to the men and women who bravely kept the light burning through the threats of war and inclement weather.