ST. MARKS, Fla. (WTXL) — Just an hour south of Tallahassee, you'll find 200 years of history that's been lighting the way for centuries.
St. Marks Lighthouse was established in 1828 on countryman's hill as a navigation aid for ships.
"St. Marks city was a bustling port," Visitor Service Ranger Constance Clineman said. "All sorts of commodities coming in and out. The harbor was so crowded they needed a lighthouse, so they appealed to Congress."
After getting approval in 1830, they built the first lighthouse, but it was rejected by the Customs Inspector because the walls were hollow instead of solid.
It was rebuilt with lime rock, but that didn't last long, causing the final lighthouse to be built in its current location in 1842.
This is when the first of 20 lighthouse keepers and their families moved in.
"The keeper who stayed here the longest was John Young Gresham, and he was here for 31 years, but the keepers were not always men," Clineman said.
When the husband's died, wives would take over, creating a legacy of lady light housekeepers.
"The first one who took over was Mrs. Ann Dudley," Clineman said. "I like to think of her as the first bed and breakfast host in Florida. She would cook hot meals for sailors and let them stay the night, for just 25 or 50 cents."
From the families that lived there to those who only were there for a short time, so many untold stories were heard only in these walls.
During the lighthouse keeper J.Y. Gresham's service, the area around the lighthouse was incorporated into the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
The Gresham's continued to serve at the lighthouse after the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the nation's lighthouses in 1939 until his retirement in 1949.
The Lighthouse was automated in 1960 and remained an active aid to navigation for vessels on the Apalachee Bay.
In 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took over and help refurbish it to the historical site people see today.
"So, you can actually feel like you were part of a living history," Clineman said.
The lighthouse tower has a 78-step staircase, to a light that continues shining across the Apalachee Bay, as the story of the St. Marks Lighthouse continues.
For more details about the history, go here: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/St_Marks/visit/lighthouse_history.html