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Historic Society hosts talk on lighthouses of Florida

January 9, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Do you know the history of your local lighthouse?

Dr. Kevin McCarthy does.

He's written three books about lighthouses, and he'll be coming to share what he's learned at the Estero Island Historic Society on Jan. 14.

"I'm going to talk about the builders of the lighthouses, who built them, who lived there, what type of person lived there, and also how the lighthouses were under threat from time to time. For example, during the Civil War, the lighthouse keepers had to decide whether to keep the light burning, which would help mariners, but would hurt those who were bringing contraband ashore for the war," McCarthy said.

He will also tell stories about Native Americans who attacked lighthouses, like the one at Cape Florida on Biscayne Bay.

"It's a very interesting story about what happened down there, and how the lighthouse keeper lived," he said.

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McCarthy grew up on an island off New Jersey that harbored a famous lighthouse.

"(It was) designed by Lieutenant Meade of the Civil War fame, who I found out designed some of the very famous lighthouses in Florida. That's how I got interested. I've been a boater and a fisherman much of my life," he said.

The lighthouse aficionado, who holds a Bachelor's degree in English, a Master's degree in American Literature, and a PhD in Linguistics, taught at the University of Florida from 1969-2005, and also spent a year as a Fullbright professor in Lebanon, and two years in Saudi Arabia.

Of his 67 books, 40 are about Florida, and one is specifically about the state's lighthouses.

"The thing that fascinates me the most is the fact that in this day and age of radar and GPS, lighthouses have become much less relied upon by pilots and mariners along the coast, but every time a community or even the federal government tries to tear a lighthouse down, the local people rise up and say, no, no, give it to us, we'll keep it. And they make lighthouse museums out of it. That keeps the history of lighthouses very much alive throughout the state," said McCarthy.

Our closest lighthouse on Sanibel has its own story, too.

It was built because Punta Rassa, directly across the channel, was a destination for cattle drives.

"During trade with Cuba and during the Civil War, some of the cattle would be taken down to Punta Rassa from all over Florida and shipped out to Cuba. But the ships that did that often shipwrecked, so the mariners needed some type of lighthouse structure to warn them where the safe parts were," he explained.

Dr. McCarthy's talk is free of charge and open to the public in the Community Room at the Fort Myers Beach Library, 2755 Estero Blvd.

It will start at 7 p.m.



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