Heralding the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean into the shipping channel between North Island and South Island stands the oldest lighthouse in South Carolina.
For two centuries, mariners have passed this lighthouse on their way to or from Winyah Bay and the Seaport of Georgetown, located 10 miles away.
On a sunny, clear day, the North Island Lighthouse (or Georgetown Light, as it has sometimes been called) is visible from Belle Isle Marina as a tiny iridescent white column while, at night, it is discernible from the same vantage point as a tiny, intermittent point of brightness.
The building has a history back into the early days of America: land was donated in 1789 on North Island by Revolutionary War Patriot Paul Trapier but it took till 1801 for the first lighthouse to be built.
During the 1790s, the federal government launched the Lighthouse Service, a program of lighthouse construction along the east coast. Until then, the southeast Atlantic coast had only two lighthouses: one at Tybee Island, Georgia, off Savannah, and the other at Morris Island, off Charleston.
However, Georgetown residents had long been wanting a lighthouse to mark the entrance to their harbor, but not only. They realized, in fact, would such a beacon increase maritime trade by marking the approach to Winyah Bay and the Seaport of Georgetown, it would also make such trade safer.
The first beacon was a ca 22 meters pyramid type tower made out of Cypress wood that readily grew in the swamps in the area.
Along with the lighthouse, a 2-story lighthouse keeper’s house was built along with a tank to hold whale oil. The oil was used to keep the 1,8 meters wide lantern lit to warn ships of the shoal ridden bay during the many unexpected storms that would slam the little island.
Unfortunately the mighty storms, or perhaps even hurricane-force winds, won out over the wooden lighthouse and it was destroyed in 1806.
It wouldn’t be until 1811 that a brick replacement was built. The present lighthouse was constructed according to plans very similar to those of the original structure, but taller and with, of course, the substitution of stone for wood. It was secured in a 15-meters-deep base filled with a sand, oyster shell, lime and water mixture called tabby, which is stronger than even modern cement.
This time, it stood strong against the bad storms but not against man. During the Civil War, Confederate lookouts kept watch for Union ships before destroying the light room so the invading Federals could not use it. Soon, in 1862,Federal soldiers breached the tower to raise the Union flag over North Island but the lighthouse was heavily damaged.
After the war, the tower was repaired and heightened to 26 meters, with a new light room and a new fourth-order Fresnel lens. A new two-story keeper’s cottage, as well as a cistern and boat house, were built at this time.
After a 1968 fire destroyed the keeper’s cottage, a rotating Coast Guard crew manned the lighthouse until 1986, when the U.S. Coast Guard automated the light and the crew relocated.
Interestingly, the oldest lighthouse in South Carolina was the last in the state to be automated.
Now under state control, belonging to the South Carolina Heritage Trust as part of the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Preserve, the lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A succession of lighthouse keepers have climbed through the trap door into the light room during the more than two centuries of lighthouse service.
Our haunted story is about a lighthouse keeper and his daughter and, though the story is consistent, the year the accident occurred is harder to pin down, even if most point to the time the second tower was built, around 1811.
As story goes, a widowed lighthouse keeper was sent to the island accompanied by his daughter, Annie.
Like most fathers, Annie was the light in his eyes and would help him around the lighthouse and other duties that needed to be done. Since a boat was the only way to get to the North Island Lighthouse, when supplies got low, the lighthouse keeper and his daughter would row across the bay into Georgetown.
Always, they were careful to schedule their excursions to travel with the tides and arrive back on the Island in time to light the great lantern before darkness fell.
However, one fateful evening, on their return trip, a fierce storm blew in unexpectedly. Seeing he was only a quarter of the way from getting home, the lighthouse keeper tied his daughter to his back and swam the rest of the way to shore. The trip through the high sea left him in shock, exhausted and not remembering even getting to shore. Unfortunately when he awoke on the beach, he found his daughter still tied to his back but she had drowned. After his daughter’s death, the poor keeper became despondent, holing himself up in the lighthouse where he eventually passed away.
From that terrible day and, it seems, still today, mariners in the bay have reported a sweet blonde child on their ships warning them to “Go Back”. And It is claimed that, inevitably, even on calm sunny days, an unanticipated storm follow these sightings.
Legend as it that those who ignore her well-timed warning soon find themselves facing a watery grave.
Images from web – Google Research