Located near the entrance to Pensacola Bay and 190 feet above sea level, stands the black and white tower of the Pensacola Lighthouse. The light flashes white every minute and can be seen 27 miles out at sea. However, this wasn't the first light ever protecting this area. The first came in 1823, and was a light ship called the Aurora Borealis. This ship was sent to Pensacola from Mississippi upon the completion of the lighthouse there. It was anchored inside the Bay, but because of the trees from Santa Rosa Island, the view of ships at sea outside the Bay was blocked. It was decided in 1825 that a 40 foot tower would be built on a bluff near the south entrance to the Bay making it the first lighthouse built on Florida's Gulf Coast by the U.S. Government and being 80 feet above sea level. A year earlier in 1824, the government had designated Pensacola to be the site for a navy yard.
This new light was not without problems, as it too was being blocked by those same Santa Rosa Island trees and ended up being no more useful than a harbor light. Another issue, the Mobile Alabama light went from stationary to revolving, which is how the Pensacola light flashes, sailors were confused, especially since the lights were only 40 miles apart. Something had to be done...
On January 1st, 1859, a new light which had been built on the north side of the entrance to the bay was lit, finally giving the harbor the light it needed. The new tower, which is the one that stands there today, is 150 feet tall and when you add the height of the 40 foot bluff, you get the 190 feet above sea level.
During the Civil War, the light got shot out and remained dark until 1863 when it was relit with a fourth order Fresnel lens, and in 1869, this was changed to a first order lens. It was during this time that the upper two thirds of the lighthouse, which had been all white, were changed too. It was then painted black and remains that way today. In 1939, electricity was brought to the lighthouse and in 1965, the light was fully automated. In 1974, the lighthouse and its' buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The lighthouse is on located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station; and in 1914 when the federal government established Pensacola as it's first training base for naval aviators, some thought the lighthouse might be too tall and therefore be a hazard. That turned out not to be the case; in fact, pilots now use it as a checkpoint. The Coast Guard took charge of the lighthouse in 1939, you can tour the tower and museum seven days a week, for a minimal fee. The lighthouse itself currently remains operational.
By Beverly Martinez-Collins – PlacesAroundFlorida.com