One of the most beloved landmarks in the Beaufort SC area is the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse. Over a million visitors come to see it each year; maybe because it’s the only lighthouse in South Carolina where you can climb all the way to the top. The Hunting Island Lighthouse’s history started with its construction in 1859, but it has suffered a few setbacks along the way.
On July 1, 1859, the Hunting Island lighthouse emitted its first beacon of light from the coast of Hunting Island, SC, protecting ships from sandbars and the treacherous currents that lie beneath the surface along our coast.
Then, the Civil War started, and Beaufort SC was a popular southern port coveted by both the South and the North.
What lots of folks are not aware of is that in 1861, the original Hunting Island lighthouse was destroyed by retreating Confederate soldiers in order to slow the Union Navy from its arrival to Beaufort SC.
It was rebuilt again after the war and was completed in 1875.
But, that’s not all. It was actually more than a mile further out in the ocean than where it stands today. It was dismantled after an August 1887 storm eroded so much of the beach that after it ended, the lighthouse stood only 150 away from the ocean. It was then moved to its current location on Hunting Island.
Luckily, and quite intelligently, the original lighthouse was constructed out of cast iron plates that could be dismantled. All that was needed was the unbolting of the steel plates; a tramway built for carrying the pieces by makeshift rail car; and reassembling in its new spot.
Its beacon is very bright, shining some 17 miles out to sea. Fitted with a Fresnel lens; a type of composite compact lens originally developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses. It has been called “the invention that saved a million ships.”
The design allows the construction of lenses of large aperture and short focal length without the mass and volume of material that would be required by a lens of conventional design. A Fresnel lens can be made much thinner and can capture more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing the light from a lighthouse equipped with one to be visible over greater distances.
After 144 years, the beacon still works at the Hunting Island Lighthouse, although with modern navigation lighthouses are no longer necessary.
When you’re visiting Beaufort, make sure you go and see it at Hunting Island State Park. It’s one of the many reasons that you won’t want to go home, and it’s one of the many reasons why most long to relocate to Beaufort after they’ve gone home after a nice vacation, realizing just how beautiful the entire Beaufort area really is.