While visiting Orlando, Florida, it’s almost a guarantee that you will at least spend an hour of one of your days driving. So, why not use a day and spend an hour traveling to Ponce Inlet, Florida, to the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum? You can enjoy a day for all ages at the lighthouse while experiencing a slice of Florida history.
Standing 175 feet, The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest in Florida and one of the tallest in the United States, second only to the 207 foot Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina.
The second structure
But when you visit the lighthouse, you won’t see the original structure. The first lighthouse for what was once called Mosquito Inlet was built in 1835. Mosquito Inlet acted as an exit point for two rivers: the Halifax River to the North and the Hillsborough River, later named the Indian River to the South.
Shipping Florida’s cotton, rice, and citrus depended on Mosquito Inlet to move products to the many ports worldwide. The treacherous inlet resulted in several sinking ships and lost profit for the nearby plantations. In 1830, a petition authored by William DePeyster and signed by plantation and ship owners from Mosquito County stated that they “were suffering from considerable privations, and difficulties, in the trade to this quarter in consequence of there being no lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet.”
In 1834, Congress gave $11,000 for a lighthouse on the North end of the inlet. The lighthouse was hastily completed in 1835. But before the first supply of oil could reach the 45-foot tall lighthouse, a series of storms undercut the lighthouse’s foundation.
The Second Seminole War in Florida added even more damage to the lighthouse. They ravaged the lighthouse when a raiding party visited nearby New Smyrna Beach. Repair work was impossible at the time, and in April of 1836, the tower collapsed. It wouldn’t be until 1883 that a new attempt to build another lighthouse. However, to avoid unavoidable water damage to the tower’s foundation, the new lighthouse would be made on the Southside of the inlet. The present-day lighthouse is the result.
As they were called, three lightkeepers operated the tower until 1939, when the lighthouse was transferred over to the United States Coast Guard. In 1970, the Coast Guard abandoned the lighthouse as a newly constructed beacon was erected in New Smyrna Beach. The property was deeded to the town of Ponce Inlet in 1972 and given to the Lighthouse Preservation Association to manage both the property and a museum. That same year The Ponce de Leon Lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Know Before You Go: Ponce de Leon Lighthouse
Today, the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse is considered one of the most pristine lighthouse properties in the United States. Every structure on the property is laid out as to the very day the lighthouse was lit in 1887. Once you step through the entranceway of the white picket fence that surrounds the property, you step through a portal in time.
On the property, visitors will enjoy exhibits of Florida history and the area, along with the incredible lighting museum housing all the tools used by past lightkeepers plus actual lighting fixtures used at the top of the 203 step tower.
Adults may not, but kids will enjoy climbing the 203 steps, which eventually end at the gallery or balcony at the top of the lighthouse. You will enjoy a perfect picture view of the Florida coastline and outer areas on the terrace.
In the gift shop, take a piece of Florida history that is a Ponce de Leon Lighthouse and Museum souvenir, and then spend the hour traveling back to Orlando with a smile.