Daufuskie Island community races to save historic lighthouse

tbarton@islandpacket.comApril 25, 2012 

  • Tabby is a concrete made from lime, sand and oyster shells. Its origin is uncertain, although early documents record Indian burial vaults with walls made of oyster shells and lime. Early settlers to the area could not find the stones and clay they had used in Europe for building materials, so they extracted the lime by burning heaps of oyster shells left behind by American Indians. Salt was painstakingly removed from the shells and sand to keep the concrete firm.

    Source: Beaufort County Library

Time has caught up with a historic beacon at the northeastern tip of Daufuskie Island.

For nearly 140 years, the Haig Point Lighthouse has withstood nor'easters, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, guiding ships to safe passage and welcoming visitors.

In recent years, however, beach erosion has threatened to wash the historic landmark into Calibogue Sound. The community now is trying to fend off further erosion to save the lighthouse.

The lighthouse stands only 30 feet from a beachfront bluff, at least 30 feet closer to the shoreline than just three years ago.

Just north of the lighthouse, the beach has eroded by 150 feet during the same period because of the prevailing storm path. One strong storm along the northeast coast could do irreparable harm, said Randall Page, general manager of the private Haig Point Club.

Government regulation doesn't allow replacement of land and property that are washed away.

"Time has caught up to us and we have to act now in order to save the lighthouse as a National Historic Landmark," Page said in a news release. "The lighthouse is a cultural and historical part of who we are."

The community hired Myrick Marine Contracting of Savannah to place a quarter-mile-long revetment to bolster the beachfront against further erosion. Work is expected to begin next month and last about four months, according to Haig Point officials.

The large granite boulders and netting should "sap" the energy from the waves and stop the erosion from Calibogue Sound, company owner Bob Myrick said. At the same time, the firm will solidify 350 feet of shoreline along Beach Road.

Page said the private community will pay for the nearly $700,000 project with its reserves and contributions from homeowners.

The lighthouse, which some say is haunted by the ghost of the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, was built on the tabby foundation of a former 1800s plantation house that had three floors and 7,000 square feet.

The lighthouse was manned continuously from 1873 through 1924. It was restored as a guesthouse in 1986, and the U.S. Coast Guard gave permission for the lighthouse to shine nightly.

It was built as the rear range light of a double-light system and to serve as living quarters for the keeper, according to Nancy Ludtke, executive director of the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation.

The front range light was farther south along the Calibogue Sound shore.

Ships determined their position by the alignment of the these two lights to safely enter the sound. The entrance to the sound moved as sand shifted, so the front range light was placed atop a pair of wooden rails, along which it could be moved to track the sound's entrance, Ludtke said.

By 1895, the lighthouse complex included a boathouse, landing and wharf, none of which exists today. A fireproof oil house was constructed just east of the lighthouse in 1892 to store the volatile kerosene used during the period. Around 1895, a 6,000-gallon cistern was built just west of the lighthouse. The fuel house and cistern still stand.

"We have an historic treasure we have to protect. And it's not a minute too soon to put this plan in place," Myrick said.

Related Content

  1. Conservation group plans restoration of Daufuskie's Gullah cottage: March 18, 2012
  2. Daufuskie Island Foundation hosts cemetery cleanup: Oct. 15, 2011
  3. State says Daufuskie homeowners violated the law with unauthorized revetment: Sept. 12, 2011
  4. Times, elements threaten island's Baynard Mausoleum: Sept. 11, 2010

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