03 November 2010

The Cockspur Island Lighthouse

Cockspur Island is located in Chatham County, Georgia just inside the mouth of the Savannah River. It is home to Fort Pulaski and the Cockspur Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse is located on an oyster bed islet off the eastern end of the island. The current structure was built about 1855 to replace an earlier light that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1854.

The first keeper of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse was named John Lightburn. He lived on Cockspur Island, near Fort Pulaski, and would make daily trips to the tower to service the light. The lighthouse's second keeper, Cornelius Maher, drowned near the tower when his boat capsized while he was trying to help someone in distress. Maher's wife, Mary, replaced her husband as keeper and remained at the light for three more years.

The Cockspur Island light was darkened during the Civil War, but it was surrounded by drama. Across the bay, Union forces took control of Tybee Island in 1861. The Confederates moved into Fort Pulaski to defend their position. Using their new rifled Parrot guns, the Union opened fire on the fort on 11 April 1862. Over 5,000 shots were fired by the Union and many landed and penetrated Fort Pulaski. When one such shell hit close to one of the fort's powder magazine, the Confederates decided it would be best to surrender. Even though thousands of explosive shells were launched and literally flew directly over the Cockspur Lighthouse, it sustained no damage.

Cockspur Island Light with the Tybee Island Light in the distance, to
the far right.

View of Fort Pulaski from the Lighthouse Trail.  Damage caused by the
Union forces' new rifled gun can clearly be seen.

George Washington Martus was one of the Cockspur Island Light keepers who served many years after the Civil War, accepting an assignment to the station in 1881 at the age of eighteen. Martus served until 1886, when he transferred upstream to the Elba Island Lighthouse. Martus' sister Florence lived with him on Elba Island, and for over forty years, she greeted all the vessels entering and leaving the port of Savannah with the wave of a handkerchief by day or a lantern by night. She became somewhat of a legend and was known as the "Waving Girl." A statue of her stands on River Street in Savannah. The final resting place of brother and sister is Laurel Grove Cemetery (also in Savannah).

Cockspur Lighthouse was deactivated in 1909, and the National Park Service gained control of it in 1958. The light was a recipient of a restoration project from 1995 to 2000, and it was re-lit in 2007 for historical significance.

The best way to reach the lighthouse is by boat, but there is an overlook trail that may be taken through the marsh from Fort Pulaski.

Post © 2010 S. Lincecum.

Sources include:

- Cockspur Island Lighthouse, Georgia via Lighthousefriends.com
- Fort Pulaski National Monument via U.S. National Park Service
- Personal knowledge of Stephanie Lincecum

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