Two St. George Island residents have written a new book that tells the history of the four lighthouses on St. George Island with emphasis on the men and women who kept the light burning in Apalachicola Bay for over 150 years.
Cape St. George Lighthouse and Apalachicola Bay by James L. Hargrove and Carol A. Talley will be published on April 17 as part of the Images of America series from Arcadia Press.
Aimed at all visitors who love lighthouse history, the new book contains over 200 vintage photographs and documents selected from the archives of the Cape St. George Lighthouse Museum, as well as unpublished images provided by families of former lighthouse keepers.
The book begins with photos and stories of families who lived at the lighthouse from territorial days until after the Coast Guard took control in 1939. For example, Braddock Williams and his descendants served at Cape St. George from 1854 to 1893 and then cared for the Crooked River Lighthouse and range lights from Eastpoint to Carrabelle. From 1893 to 1938, the families of Edward Porter and Walter Roberts Sr. and Jr. faithfully operated the lighthouse.
The Collectors of Customs in Apalachicola served as superintendents of the lighthouses from Cape San Blas to Dog Island. The new book includes early correspondence between the collectors and the U.S. Treasury Department, and shows documents such as contracts for the first lighthouses and a discussion of Mrs. Ann Taylor, who operated the Cape St. George lighthouse for several months after her husband died in 1850.
Notable events included the destruction and rebuilding of the lighthouse after the great hurricane of 1851, and the interruption in commerce caused by the Civil War. Commerce in Apalachicola Bay changed as railroads diverted the cotton trade down the river from Columbus, Georgia, while shipment of lumber and naval stores (turpentine and rosin) increased. Mechanical production of ice and new methods for packing seafood expanded the shipping industry, but shipping by rail and highway ended the era of riverboats by the late 1920s.
The last two lighthouse keepers at the Cape St. George Lighthouse were Sullivan White and John Montgomery. Both men joined the Coast Guard when it took control in 1939 and served through World War II. However, after the lighthouse was automated in 1949, the Coast Guard stopped maintaining the buildings at the lighthouse reservation. Storms and blowing sand took their toll, and the old lighthouse was discontinued in 1994. Members of the St. George Lighthouse Association salvaged the 1852 lighthouse after it collapsed in 2005, and rebuilt it about 12 miles east of its original location. The lighthouse, museum and gift shop are now located in Lighthouse Park at the end of the bridge to St. George Island.
Talley has worked with the St. George Island Lighthouse Association since 2008 and has compiled information about our lighthouse keepers and the customs collectors who supervised them. Hargrove is a lighthouse docent who wrote a prior book about William Popham, Apalachicola’s “Oyster King,” when he retired from the University of Georgia in 2012.