Completed in 1887...
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station is home to Florida’s tallest lighthouse. Widely regarded as one of the nation’s best-preserved historic light stations, the tower’s brilliant beacon has guided mariners for more than 130 years.
Once Called The Mosquito Inlet Light Station...
The area was renamed Ponce de Leon Inlet in the 1920s. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station was originally manned and operated by the United States Light House Establishment (USLHE). From 1887 to 1939, the tower’s beacon was meticulously maintained by lighthouse keepers who ensured that the light was lit every evening and that that it remained lit throughout the night regardless of the weather. Like the Greek couriers made famous by the ancient historian Herodotus, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night (could stay) the courageous (keeper) from the swift completion of his appointed rounds”.
Maintained by the USLHE (later renamed the US Lighthouse Service/USLHS) for over fifty years, responsibility for the light station was transferred to the United States Coast Guard following the dissolution of the Lighthouse Service in 1939. Although no longer maintained by civilian keepers, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse continued to function as a manned facility until the beacon was automated in 1953.
No longer requiring resident keepers to maintain the beacon on a daily basis, the Coast Guard reclassified the Ponce Inlet Light Station as an unmanned facility, transferred the personnel stationed there to other billets, and turned responsibility for the beacon’s operation over to the Aids to Navigation (ATON) team attached to the Coast Guard station in New Smyrna Beach. The lack of proper maintenance and the harsh coastal environment exacted a hefty toll on the historic lighthouse which quickly fell into a state of disrepair. By the late 1960s, the once spotless facility which had served as a source of pride for so many over the years had entered a state of advanced decrepitude.
Then, In 1970...
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse continued to operate as an active aid to navigation under these conditions until 1970 when a new pole-mounted light erected on the south side of the inlet facilitated its decommissioning. Abandoned in 1970, the decommissioned light station was subjected to a wide range of destructive forces including wind and weather, vandalism, theft, and more. Damages incurred during this time included fires lit in the tower’s counter-weight well, vagrants breaking into the keeper’s dwellings, stolen artifacts, the burning down the oil storage building, and pieces of the rusted tower iron being thrown into the roofs of the buildings far below. In 1972, the site was listed as surplus property by the Department of the Interior and plans to demolish the historic light station were reportedly discussed.
A Group of Concerned Ponce Inlet Residents
Alarmed by the Light Station’s rapid deterioration and rumors that the buildings and tower might be torn down, a group of concerned Ponce Inlet residents stepped forward to urge the newly incorporated Town of Ponce Inlet to acquire the property in an effort to save it. The Town agreed to the request with one major stipulation; a non-profit organization must be formed to assume full responsibility for the restoration, preservation, and management of the site at little or no cost to the municipality.
On June 2, 1972, the Department of the Interior officially transferred ownership of the Lighthouse Reservation to the Town of Ponce Inlet. The not-for-profit 501(c)(3) Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association was officially incorporated less than two weeks after the transfer of ownership was completed. The all-volunteer organization immediately began the seemingly insurmountable task of bringing the light station’s buildings, grounds, and tower back to their former glory. Sources for funding the Association’s early restoration efforts were scarce. Financial resources were generated by donation drives, 25¢ admission fees, and the sale of homemade souvenirs. Receiving little to no monetary support at the local, state, or federal level, the Association gathered materials for ongoing restoration projects from a variety of sources including local businesses, its members’ garages, and even trash bins. That these dedicated individuals were able to accomplish as much as they did, given the Association’s limited resources was nothing short of amazing.
For The Past 50 Years...
Our community has witnessed the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association grow far beyond its humble beginnings to the professional, volunteer-supported non-profit that exists today. Well-known for its ground-breaking accomplishments in the fields of historic preservation, Fresnel lens restoration, public education, and museum development, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association has become one of the nation’s most highly-regarded lighthouse preservation groups.
The museum’s day-to-day operations are managed by professional staff; however, governance of the organization remains the sole responsibility of the Association’s all-volunteer Board of Trustees which is made up of eleven Ponce Inlet residents committed to the ongoing preservation and dissemination of the historic Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. This dedicated group is assisted in its endeavors by an Advisory Committee comprised of like-minded Town residents. Working together with museum staff and program volunteers, the Board of Trustees and Advisory Committee works diligently to achieve the Association’s ongoing mission to preserve and disseminate the maritime and social history of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse initially set forth by its founding members nearly half a century ago.
Since its inception, the Preservation Association has remained committed to the continued restoration and maintenance of this historic property. Renowned not only for its restoration expertise, the Association is well known for its commitment to furthering the cause of historic preservation. Work conducted by the organization is completed by qualified staff that has undergone extensive training in the field of historic masonry restoration and 19th-century construction techniques. All restoration work at the Light Station is carried out under the guidance of the Federal Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties.
The Association has completed millions of dollars’ worth of preservation and restoration work to the historic light station over the past 50 years and has increased the overall value of the site with the construction several modern structures including the Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit Building, the Gift Shop and Conference Building, the Rest Room/Group Entrance Facility, and the Administration Building. Restored by trained Association employees and/or licensed contractors, the once dilapidated keepers’ dwellings and outbuildings are now home to one of the nation’s most comprehensive lighthouse museums. All improvements have been completed by the Preservation Association at little or no cost to the Town of Ponce Inlet’s residents who are admitted free of charge.
Although government grants have been pursued in the past to help fund major projects, the light station has operated with zero tax-funded support at the local, state, or federal level for more than a decade. The organization’s many successes have been achieved with minimal financial assistance from the public sector. 100% of the museum’s annual operating budget is generated entirely in-house through gift shop merchandise sales, daily admission fees, annual membership dues, and private/corporate donations.
Welcoming nearly 150,000 visitors annually, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station remains a cornerstone of the Halifax area’s tourism-driven economy. Voted Daytona’s Best Learning Experience by the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Preservation Association is highly regarded not only for its exhibits and historic structures but for its exceptional educational programs as well. Provided free of charge to all Volusia County school groups, this important element of the Association’s ongoing mission has been praised by educators throughout the local community and serves as a benchmark for lighthouse organizations nationwide
Now In Its 50th Year of Existence...
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association looks to the future, ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow with the same determination and conviction that has served it so well in the past. With your support, this important National Historic Landmark will continue to shine for many more generations to come.