With a hoot of cheers from spectators last Thursday morning, roughly two hours after workers began, the Cape San Blas Lighthouse ascended to its position as the highest point in Port St. Joe.
The 91-foot, 60-ton structure was raised from its side to its rightful stature standing sentinel in George Core Park as three cranes and more than a dozen workers skillfully and without event put the lighthouse on its new foundation along the waterfront in Port St. Joe.
“It’s surreal,” said Charlotte Pierce of the St. Joseph Historical Society which has worked for more than a decade to save and preserve the lighthouse. “We would have loved for it to stay on the Cape but obviously that was not an option.
“I’m just excited to see it saved and preserved for generations to come to and enjoy.”
And unlike the last time Mother Nature forced the lighthouse further inland – more than a century ago – the images of this move will last beyond many of our lifetimes as dozens were stationed around the park with video cameras, personal cameras, phones and most any other device with which to snap a memory.
Spectators came with lawn chairs and towels to sit on and folks ringed the park as the lighthouse was carefully raised and its four legs – seems hardly the proper word for the large steel beams of the base – placed on footers poured more than two weeks ago.
“This is history,” said local photographer Clarence Monette who filmed the work.
The process of raising the lighthouse, like the move last Tuesday of the tower and ancillary buildings from Cape San Blas to town, went remarkably smoothly, save for the sound of a heavy chain breaking early in the process that seemed to unnerve all but the contractor and his crew from Ducky Johnson House Movers.
In fact, the Ducky Johnson crew, which lost its namesake leader several years ago, reinforced its legend established, at least in Port St. Joe, after crews moved several giant structures, including an 800-ton condenser, off the old paper mill site.
But with the lighthouse and two keepers’ quarters now in place – the oil house is to be moved this week – the work is hardly over.
As noted by Mayor Mel Magidson two weeks ago there is cleanup needed to the lighthouse structure – sanding, maybe a new coat of paint – but particularly to the keepers’ quarters.
The house that was once home to the Cape San Blas Lighthouse Gift Shop has, in the nearly two years since it was deemed the lighthouse was under threat of coastal erosion and declared surplus by the U.S. Air Force, has come under disrepair.
The Gift Shop, in the short term, will continue to operate from the adjacent historic Maddox House.
One of the quarters has a restroom, but the other does not which will be consideration for future plans.
“We just don’t know what we will do with the gift shop, yet,” Pierce said.
Pierce said the Historical Society will likely undertake a community fundraising campaign to facilitate necessary work to the structures.
Pierce said in addition to some cleaning and general “spiffing up” the lighthouse tower will be inspected to ensure it survived the relocation without injury, with an aim toward resuming the full-moon climbs that were so popular before nature forced a stop.
The Historical Society is also reaching out to the Coast Guard to examine options for installation of some kind of light – it can not impact navigation – in the lighthouse lantern room.
Landscaping around the complex is also on the to-do list.
That, however, is in the future.
For now there was satisfaction for the members of the Historical Society, a couple of dozen strong, who wrote applications for state grants, appeared at state hearings for those grants and somehow came away with the funds to restore the keepers’ quarters and rehabilitate the lighthouse tower.
The organization also worked through the red tape of the Air Force and the Board of County Commissioners to broker a lease for the property and buildings, which paved the way, eventually, for the full-moon climbs.
“So few people, with the help of others – just look at what they were able to accomplish,” Pierce said. “At this point, I am sure it was the good Lord’s blessing that got us through.
“I think it is going to be an awesome asset to the community and to the county.”