The Jupiter Lighthouse turned 153 on July 10.
It stays robust and healthy thanks to 100 volunteers.
Last week, about half of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum’s volunteers gathered to celebrate the 153rd anniversary of the illumination of the Jupiter Lighthouse with a party of the deck where the lighthouse keeper’s home once stood.
“You are the heart and soul of the lighthouse,” said Jim St. Pierre, the chairman of the board of the directors..
Laughter floated in the air beneath the branches of the giant 77-year-old ficus tree that flourishes in the shadow of the crimson tower.
The first lighthouse keepers were an intrepid group. Those brave men and women struggled to make a life in the tiny clearing at the mouth of the Jupiter Inlet — fighting disease, mosquitoes, wild animals, and angry Seminoles as well as the oppressive heat and terrifying tropical storms.
The volunteers, most of whom are retired, love to tell the stories of captains James Armour, lighthouse keeper from 1868 to 1908, and Charles Seabrook, keeper from 1919 to 1947. They are so proud of the maritime marvel that they delight in showing it to visitors. Every volunteer has a story or two about a memorable visitor.
“You are what makes this beautiful place click,” St. Pierre told them, “and we couldn’t do it without you.”
Here are just a few of the volunteers:
BOB BOYD, 86, of Tequesta
Volunteering since: 1992. “I was one of the first.”
Favorite thing about the lighthouse: The Fresnel lens. “They cost $10,000 when the lighthouse was built. Today they’re worth more than $2.5 million.”
Why I love the light: “The history. I came down here (from New Jersey) just to see it.” Boyd is a walking encyclopedia of Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse facts and figures.
LEO WHALEN, 56, of Stuart
Volunteering since: “For about three months.”
Favorite thing about the lighthouse: “I love this place. I probably climbed the steps 100 times before I started volunteering. I’m just like a dog on a rabbit about the lighthouse. And I love the grounds.”
Why I love the light: “I’m fascinated by that time in our turbulent history. It was such an interesting time. The 1860s saw a lot of change and the men who worked here worked hard in difficult conditions.”
EVELYNE BATES, 83, of Jupiter
Volunteering since: 1993, “At first I was here every day of the week.”
Favorite thing about the lighthouse: “I love that I learn something every day. I’ve worked as a tour guide, and once climbed the steps seven times in one day. I’m also the brick lady.” More than 1,600 commemorative bricks line the walking path to the lighthouse and Bates sold nearly all of them.
Why I love the light: “We have a historical monument right in our back yard.”
MARYLOU SHIRAR, 81, of Jupiter
Volunteering since: “Day one.”
Favorite thing about the lighthouse: “I meet so many people with different education and experiences, from so many different countries. It’s mystical: as though you can see both the past and the future.”
Why I love the light: “It’s one of the only lighthouses of its kind on the East Coast and one of only three areas in the U.S. designated as an outstanding natural area.”
RITA SELLERS, 82, of Jupiter
Volunteering since: “2001.”
Favorite thing about the lighthouse: I enjoy the people who come to visit.
Why I love the light: “I’ve always been interested in history and I like learning about the lighthouse’s role in our history.”
If you go:
The Jupiter Lighthouse and Museum
Where: 500 Captain Armours Way, at the corner of Beach Road and U.S. 1, Jupiter.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday until January. Open seven days a week January to April. The last lighthouse tour leaves at 4 p.m. Sunset and moonrise tours are also offered several times a month.
Admission: $9 adults; $5 ages 6-18; free for age 5 and younger and active U.S. military with ID admitted free. Admission includes museum exhibits and lighthouse tour.
Info: 561-747-8380; jupiterlighthouse.org
Five reasons to go:
- The amazing Fresnel lens, in use for 153 years. When the young French physicist Augustin Jean Fresnel developed a curtain of glass prisms and lenses — which is known today as the Fresnel lens – the cost of a first order lens in 1851 was less than $10,000. Today one would sell for more than $2 million, if there were any available.
- It’s unique and rare. The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the 126-acre site has been federally designated as an Outstanding Natural Area, one of only three in the United States.
- It’s romantic. Every year, proposals take place at the top of the lighthouse, and weddings take place under the ficus tree at the bottom. One volunteer recalled a sunset/moonrise tour when he took a photo of a newlywed couple at sunset and another 25 minutes later as the moon rose.
- It’s rarely been dark.The lighthouse was intentionally shut down during the Civil War by Confederate soldiers who stole and hid a vital part. It was probably dark for a short time during the 1928 hurricane, when the power went out and the back-up generator failed. Capt. Charles Seabrook quickly switched from electric power back to the mineral oil lamps, and the light was manually turned by Seabrook’s son, Franklin “to the point of exhaustion,” throughout the storm. The lighthouse light was dimmed during World War II by replacing the light with a lower-wattage bulb.
- It’s historic. Much of Palm Beach County’s rich and tumultuous history took place in the shadow of the light.
Ten things you didn’t know about the Jupiter Lighthouse:
- During the 1928 hurricane, the lens was damaged by blowing debris.
- During the hurricane, the lighthouse swayed 17 inches.
- The original light could be seen 18 miles out to sea. In 1987, the lighthouse was automated with a 1,000-watt electric bulb that can be seen 24 miles out to sea.
- The Gulf Stream is closer to the U.S. off the Jupiter Inlet than anywhere else on the eastern seaboard.
- When it was finally completed in 1859, the lighthouse cost $60,859.98, nearly twice its original congressional allocation.
- The light was dark during the Civil War, from about 1861 to 1865, when a vital part was stolen by Confederate soldiers, making it impossible to light.
- Visitors must climb 105 cast-iron stairs to the top of the lighthouse.
- Construction ceased for a while in the late 1850s due to Seminole Indian attacks, heat, mosquitoes, and a plague known at the time as “Jupiter Fever.” It opened in 1860.
- The lighthouse was restored in 1999 using an $850,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to the Town of Jupiter.
- More than 60,000 people visit the lighthouse and museum annually, and about 40 couples are married there each year.