As its ninth official act, the first Congress in 1789 placed the operation of all navigational aids under the central governmentís jurisdiction: "In the necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers erected, placed, or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the Treasury of the United States."

The Bureau of Lighthouses was established on August 7, 1789, under the Treasury Department and the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury.

After the Bureau of Lighthouses did a detailed investigation to increase individual light station efficiency, they formed the Lighthouse Board.

The Lighthouse Board was established within the treasury department on October 9, 1852 and approved August 31,1852.

Upon the establishment of the Department of Commerce and Labor, On July 1, 1903, the Lighthouse board was transferred to that department.

The Lighthouse Board was succeeded by the Bureau of the Lighthouses, Act approved June 17,1910.

The Bureau of the Lighthouses was abolished by President Roosevelt, effective July 1, 1939 and its function transferred to the United States Coast Guard in the Treasury Department.

The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over Lighthouse administration today.


Much of the information this book was garnished from The Lighthouse Boards records

Until 1852, all lighthouse construction was awarded by contract, with not much more to guide the builders, other than a simple sketch and brief specifications. The Lighthouse Board began setting much stricter standards; its drawings and information were so through, that little of the design was left up to the builders. The Coast Guard has had its own lighthouse designers since assuming control of the lighthouse administration in 1939.


Sand Island Lighthouses Fresnel Lens,

in the Fort Morgan Museum 1997.

Photo by Paula Lee


The Fresnel (say Fray-nell) prismatic lens was removed in December of 1971. It was Relocated to the Fort Morgan museum where the 10 ft X 5 ft Huge, pineapple shaped lens was put back together in December of 1972. The lens weighs an estimated three tons. It consists of heavy glass prisms slotted into place by hand. It flashed signals to men in ships for 98 years.

The lens was named for Augustine Jean Fresnel, a French physicist who demonstrated wave theory of light and changed the worlds' lighthouse's illumination to the Fresnel system. The Fresnel lens collects the light radiated at random from a small light and using reflection and refracting prisms directs the rays towards the horizon. The original lamps used in this lens were of the Lard type. Later they were converted to a Mineral Oil type and finally an electric light bulb was used for illumination. The Electric Oil Va-por light bulbs that were used once the lighthouse was converted to electricity, were each 1000 watts. There were four nine inch bulbs as one burned out another would be rotated into position. These bulbs generated 60,000 candle power, when magnified by the lens. The ten second flashes could be seen for 18 mile's distance. One prism is still missing from the lens.


The lens is not very well protected at Fort Morgan. The prisms are getting chipped and cracked from the publics' keys and rings banging into the unprotected sides of the lens. There is no plastic or glass case surrounding the lens. The lens is located in the middle of the circular walk way of the museum with no railing surrounding it. The charge today for visiting Fort Morgan is three dollars per person. A short story telling about the last time this light was illuminated follows this book.


The Fresnel lenses are classified according to size as measured by the focal distance of the lens, (from the center of the light to the inner surface of the lens). Fresnel lenses range from the first order down to the sixth order.

∑ First-order lenses measure 36.2 inches (91.9 cm).

∑ Second-order lenses measure 27.6 inches (70.1 cm).

∑ Third, 19.7 inches (50 cm).

∑ Third-and-a-half, 14.7 inches (37.3 cm).

∑ Fourth, 9.8 inches (24.9 cm).

∑ Fifth, 7.4 inches (18.8 cm).

∑ Sixth, 5.9 inches (14.9 cm).



The existing Sand island lighthouse has stood guardian to the entrance of Mobile bay and has done so for one hundred twenty four years plus.

The original light was constructed more than 167 years ago.

The existing Lighthouse has withstood the devastating hurricanes that have struck this area with a strength that we cannot seem to replicate in our modern buildings.

The lighthouses earliest recorded beginning is an appropria-tion shown in 1828 Ė in a Act dated may 23, 1928 by Congress. It says That, "The Secretary of the Treasury be empowered to provide by contract, for placing an iron spindle on Sand Island, on the outer bar of Mobile Bay." This was done at the cost of $600.00 that was spent in 1830.



This was done based on a proposal made during a survey of the coast dated 1829. It was to serve the purpose of marking Petite Bois Pass (not to mark the entrance to Mobile Bay). Be-cause ships crossed through Petit Bois Pass in bad weather instead of Cat islandís South Pass, which was quite farther to the West. It was said this would facilitate vessels coming from the Gulf of Mexico and those which where bound either from New Orleans or Mobile by the Pass Au Heron. (Which today is marked as the intracoastal waterway at the point that it crosses un-der Dauphin Island bridge.) This proposal also recommended a lighthouse for Mobile Point at Fort Morgan, Saying that the Small iron beacon that was *Mobile Point Lighthouse was "a bad one."

In 1836 a payment was made to David Henshaw agent in the amount of $3,075.00 for refitting the Mobile Point lighthouse.

On March 3,1837 there was $10,000.00 allotted for a lighthouse to constructed on Sand Island opposite Mobile Point. $1,101.00 of this money was returned, being leftover resulting in an original construction cost of $8,899.00 for Sand Island Lighthouse.


Mobile Point Lighthouse

Photo courtesy Fort Morgan Museum Collection, taken following the Battle of Mobile Bay

The original Lighthouse Contract was January 1, 1838, it went to Winslow Lewis for "building a lighthouse and dwelling-house it included fitting up the lighthouse with patent lamps, reflectors."

*( The Mobile Point Lighthouse was Located at Fort Morgan)


Records show that a 55-foot tower was being built in 1838. The original lamps were of the lard type.

The first lighthouse keeper was John McCloud who was paid $500.00 a year starting in 1839. It is mentioned in the "lights list" as having 14 lamps in 16-inch reflectors in this Original lighthouse.

On August 18, 1841 Samuel Jackson of Alabama was ap-pointed to work at the lighthouse. In the 1842 "lights list" the lights were the same, no changes had been made from the 1839 list. In a note from an inspection in 1843, it mentioned that "the lanterns are already leaking but will be remedied in a few days." It also said that, "The lights are brilliant and well kept." The lighthouse was also whitewashed.

In the 1844 light list we see none of the lights have changed, it mentions that the lights are 50 feet above the base, and that the lights were of a fixed type.

In 1847 we find that Samuel Jackson is still the keeper, having been there, going on six years now.

In 1848 the first signs of Sand Islandís chronic problem were noticed. Erosion began etching away at the island.

In a 1848 Coast survey it was reported; "Sand Island has lost a strip the whole length of the eastern shore from 66 to 100 yards in width, about 200 yards from the northeast point; and has made out on its north shore, abreast of the lighthouse, about 233 yards during the last year."


There is Much Much More ... To read on order the book and help save the Lighthouse.

Get the book to learn about:

Mysterious Disappearances or desertions? A train on Sand Island?  Deaths of the keepers?

Sand Island Lighthouse Home Page