Unmanned reef lights of the Florida Keys

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The unmanned reef lights of the Florida Keys were erected between 1921 and 1935. As they were marking local hazards, they did not need to be visible for as far as the reef lights that were erected during the 19th century. By the time these lights were erected, older lighthouses were being automated, and these new lights were designed to be automated from the start. The lights resembled the older reef lights in having a skeletal pyramidal upper structure on screw-pile foundations. They all originally had lanterns on their peaks, so that they looked like smaller versions of the older reef lights, but had no keeper's quarters.

Foundation: screw-pile
Construction: wrought iron

1921 Design[edit]

The first two unmanned lights in the Florida Keys, the Molasses Reef Light and the Pacific Reef Light, were built to the same plan in 1921.

Tower shape: square skeleton tower on piles
Height: 45 feet (14 m)
Original lens: fourth order Fresnel lens
The Pacific Reef Light, shown in this 1966 USCG photo, was built to the same design as the Molassess Reef Light

Molasses Reef Light[edit]

The Molasses Reef Light is still standing, but the lantern has been removed, and a NOAA automatic weather station now sits at the top of the tower. The tower, which is painted brown, stands in 9 feet (2.7 m) of water.

Location: about 8 miles (13 km) southeast of Key Largo
Coordinates
WGS-84 (GPS)
25°01′N 80°23′W / 25.017°N 80.383°W / 25.017; -80.383
Year first lit: 1921
Characteristic: Flashing white

Pacific Reef Light[edit]

The United States Coast Guard indicates that a lightship was stationed at Pacific Reef starting in 1838. The Pacific Reef Light erected in 1921 is still operational. The lantern has been removed and is on public display in Founder's Park in Islamorada, Florida. The tower is painted white and stands in 7 feet (2.1 m) of water.

Location: about 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of Elliott Key
Coordinates
WGS-84 (GPS)
25°22′N 80°09′W / 25.367°N 80.150°W / 25.367; -80.150
Year first lit: 1921
Characteristic: Flashing white, 0.4 seconds

Hen and Chickens Shoal Light[edit]

The Hen and Chickens Shoal Light was the smallest of these lights, and the only one built as a triangular pyramid. It still exists, serving as a daymark. The lantern has been removed. The tower is painted red and stands in 19 feet (5.8 m) of water.

Location: about 2 miles (3.2 km) southeast of Plantation Key
Coordinates
WGS-84 (GPS)
24°56′N 80°33′W / 24.933°N 80.550°W / 24.933; -80.550
Year first lit: 1929
Tower shape: triangular skeleton tower on piles
Height: 35 feet (11 m)
Original lens: Range lens (acetylene gas, compressed)
Characteristic: Flashing red, 3 seconds
The Tennessee Reef Light, shown in this 1966 USCG photo, is typical of the 1932 design for unmanned lights

1932 Design[edit]

A design for a standardized wrought iron structure was developed in 1932 and used for the next four lights. It was a skeletal hexagonal pyramidal tower on a screw-pile foundation.

Tower shape: hexagonal skeleton tower on piles
Height: 49 feet (15 m)

Smith Shoal Light[edit]

The Smith Shoal Light was one of the two lights to be erected in 1933 using the 1932 design. It stood in 20 feet (6.1 m) of water. The tower was painted white. The tower apparently no longer exists.

Location: about 11 miles (18 km) north-northwest of Key West
Coordinates
WGS-84 (GPS)
24°43′N 81°55′W / 24.717°N 81.917°W / 24.717; -81.917
Year first lit: 1933
Original lens: fourth order Fresnel lens
Characteristic: Flashing white, once a second

Tennessee Reef Light[edit]

The Tennessee Reef Light was one of the two lights to be erected in 1933 using the 1932 design. It stands in 15 feet (4.6 m) of water, and is painted black. It is the only one of the unmanned reef lights in the Florida Keys that still has its lantern.

Location: south of Long Key
Coordinates
WGS-84 (GPS)
24°45′N 80°47′W / 24.750°N 80.783°W / 24.750; -80.783
Year first lit: 1933
Original lens: fourth order Fresnel lens
Characteristic: Flashing white, 0.3 seconds

Cosgrove Shoal Light[edit]

The Cosgrove Shoal Light was one of the two lights to be erected in 1935 using the 1932 design. It stood in 14 feet (4.3 m) of water. The tower was painted red. It apparently no longer exists.

Location: about 10 miles (16 km) west-southwest of Key West, south of the Marquesas Keys
Year first lit: 1935
Original lens: 200 mm
Characteristic: Flashing white: 4 flashes 0.4 seconds each, 3 eclipses 1.6 seconds each, 1 eclipse 5.6 seconds

Pulaski Shoal Light[edit]

Pulaski Shoal Light

The Pulaski Shoal Light was one of the two lights to be erected in 1935 using the 1932 design. It stood in 15 feet (4.6 m) of water and was painted black. It apparently no longer exists.

Location: about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Key West, north of the Dry Tortugas
Year first lit: 1935
Original lens: 500 mm
Characteristic: Flashing white, flash 0.4 seconds eclipse 2.6 seconds

References[edit]