Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Egmont Key at Tampa Bay

With its unique history this little island of Egmont Key had its moments throughout US history, named after John Perceval the second Earl of Egmont and member of the Irish House of Commons in 1763 it has seen ships from the Spanish conquistadors to nuclear subs pass by its shores on their way to Tampa Bay.

As commercial shipping increased in the 1830's many ships ran aground on sandbars around the island so on March 3rd 1847 Congress authorized the funds necessary to construct a lighthouse it was completed a year later in May 1848 and was known to be the only lighthouse that was between St. Marks and Key West.
In 1848 the Great Hurricane struck with flooding tides 15 feet above normal washing over the island and damaging the light, in 1852 another storm struck causing additional damage and prompting Congress to appropriate additional funding to rebuild both the lighthouse and light keepers residence.

Then in 1858 following the third Seminole War the Army used it to detain Seminole prisoners for their transportation to the Arkansas Territory, later that year the newly reconstructed 87 foot high lighthouse with its Argard kerosene lamp and fixed Fresnel lens had the assurance to withstand any storm.

Years following at the beginning of the Civil War the confederacy occupied the island, knowing they could not defend it from the Union forces they evacuated the island taking with them the Fresnel from the lighthouse tower, a most likely strategic move to slow down Union Navel forces. The Union navy then occupied the island setting up their Gulf Coast blockade of the Confederacy, once set up the Union troops raided Tampa in the unsuccessful search of the missing lens.

At the end of the Civil War the lighthouse was returned to its normal operation with its new resident, assistant and their families who resided on the island from 1866 -1898.
With the Spanish-American war imminent Fort Dade was to be created on the island in 1898, in 1906 with its completion of now a small city of 300 people, it had its own electricity, phones, jail, hospital, movie theater, bowling alley, railroad and 5 Artillery Batteries (one which is shown in my photo), in 1923 it was deactivated from service.

In 1926 the island was used by the Tampa Bay Pilots Association which used it for their operation to help guide ships through the channel and into the Tampa ports.

The lighthouse and its service was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939 who maintained the lighthouse and the radio guidance system. In 1974 the island was then designated a National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which later had limited staffing and was unable to protect the land from the growing visitor population, later when the lighthouse was automated and the Coast guard reassigned the Florida Park Service began operations in part of a co-management agreement between them and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in 1984.

A great place to visit if you are in the Tampa Bay area and have access to a boat.


Firecrackinmama said...

That is not only a Boomin good photo but I love the historical info as well!

Richard Rizzo said...

thanks FCM, I took the photograph in 1986 with my Pentax SLR using 35mm Kodachrome 64 slide film the very same roll of film that the banner of this blog was taken with of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (St. Petersburg,FL)