Shining a Light

Florida’s identity has been in many ways, shaped by the sea. It’s over a thousand miles of coastline has provided fishing, commerce, and tourism for the state. However, today’s friendly shores once presented early mariners with a series of hidden dangers beneath the waves.


Reefs and shoals – often unmarked and uncharted – posed threats to ships as they navigated Florida’s peninsula in the early 1800s. These navigational threats were often paired with the possibility of pirates, and Florida Keys wreckers that preyed on defenseless ships by sometimes using false lighting. In addition to the pirates and wreckers, several hurricanes have sunk countless ships along the Florida coast. When Florida became a territory of the United States in 1822, the federal government made quick work of establishing navigational aids where there was the most danger. One of those aids came in the form of lighthouses.


The first two lighthouses to shine on Florida’s coast were St. Augustine and Pensacola – both completed in 1824. Many soon followed over the following decades – including nearby Egmont Key Lighthouse and Port Boca Grande Lighthouse.


At the time Manatee County was established in 1855, it briefly extended from Tampa Bay to Gasparilla Island, which is located in Charlotte Harbor. The southern tip of Gasparilla Island is next to Boca Grande Pass. Gasparilla Island means “large entrance” or “big mouth” in Spanish and refers to the large pass that connects the Gulf and