This week I have been watching a high school friend’s seventh grade daughter, Hannah, so I have been particularly “adventurous,” taking advantage of sharing some of the cool places to visit, right in “our own backyard.”
One such place visited this past weekend was the Jupiter Lighthouse. The first time I toured the Jupiter Lighthouse I was five and attending St Mary’s Kindergarden in Stuart. The teacher and guide walked our class up the hundreds of twirling stairs to pop out at the top and see a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Loxahatchee watershed. We were awed!
I can still remember this experience. In fact for whatever reason, as a child, I believed the lighthouse could talk and that people sat up in the lighthouse in black leather chairs, men with cigars I recall, and together with the lighthouse “invented words.” This childhood idea has stayed with me through out my lifetime and every time I drive past the lighthouse, I remember it…
But I never actually went back until last weekend.
So 45 years later, attending with Hannah, the lighthouse still held its magic.
The lighthouse was built in 1860 to guide sea captains along the Atlantic’s treacherous waters. Its “Fresnel lens” shines 23 miles out to sea. The land around the lighthouse is located on a military reservation that was designated during the Indian Wars. Today the lighthouse is the region’s “oldest active building.”
It’s light was quickly snuffed out during the Civil War, 1861-1864, but thereafter put back in place and still shines today as the only lighthouse in Florida using its original lens. The lighthouse has been through fires, an earthquake, multiple hurricanes, the Indian Wars, and World War I and II. It has seen the entire growth of modern-day Jupiter. In 2000 it was restored and today, honestly, looks almost brand new.
For Hannah and I it was most interesting to note that the lighthouse sits atop an 45 foot sand dune/Indian shell midden lending to its prominence. Another interesting thing we learned afterwards from Facebook exchanges was that the Jupiter Inlet today is not in its original location. When the lighthouse was built the inlet winded through today’s Carlin Park about a quarter-mile south of today’s ACOE’s straight shot into the Loxahatchee River.
The Loxahatchee River, along which the lighthouse sits, was Florida’s first designated “Wild and Scenic River” and translates as “river of turtles” in Seminole. (There used to be hundreds of Green turtles in the area.) Unfortunately for the native peoples the turtles were over harvested and according to local historian Bessie Wilson DuBois, 300 of the local Seminoles were trapped right at the mouth of the Loxahatchee and later sent west during one of the Indian Wars.
The remnants of the original native peoples who lived in the area for thousands of years before their destruction by Europeans, can be seen in their earthen mounds under, and around the lighthouse. (Most famously, under the DuBois Pioneer Home across the river.) These shell mounds, formed by thousands of years of shellfish consumption provided high sights for these ancient people to take watch and a place in some cases to bury their dead.
Most of these sacred places were used by the expanding European culture to make roads. Today they are protected historical sites reminding us of a culture that lived more in harmony with nature rather than trying to overpower it.
The highlight of our visit was when Hannah and I walked to the top of the lighthouse with our tour group which included kindergarten aged kids. I thought about how much time had passed since I myself walked to the top of the lighthouse at that age, I thought about my friend’s daughter growing up in a different but somehow similar world to what I grew up in….
At the very top, Hannah and I were exhilarated. Inspired! We walked all the way around in amazement.
Then it was time to go…
On the way down, I said “Hannah you don’t mind if I say a few word to the lighthouse before we leave do you? She smiled.
I turned my head, held tight to the railing, and whispered: “Good to see you agin Mrs Lighthouse, you are looking pretty good for 154 years old.”
I was silent, and then I swear, I heard her say: ” You don’t look so bad yourself for 50, but please, don’t wait another 45 years to say hi.”
Jupiter Lighthouse: (http://jupiterlighhouse.org)
Native peoples of Florida: (http://trailoffloridasindianheritage.org/florida-indian-trial-jupiter-midden-2c.html)