There are some locations that seem to beckon you to visit. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is one of them. Reaching 175 feet majestically into the sky, this red structure is the tallest lighthouse in the state, and second tallest masonry lighthouse in the United States, behind the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the outer banks of North Carolina.
The day we visited, the lighthouse wasn’t even on my radar. (I’m certainly not one who would go climbing something that tall just for the fun of it!) Standing at the base and looking up, the lighthouse didn’t look that formidable. But try climbing the 203 steps and you will definitely have a different opinion. I know I did. Thankfully, on the lower levels there were places to stop and catch our breath. But as we got closer to the top, it felt like the walls were closing in. No wonder. Its 32-foot-diameter base slowly shrinks to just 12 feet at the top. Once there, though, the view–even on a cloudy day–is breathtaking: water everywhere you look. After all, it is located 10 miles south of Daytona Beach, where the Halifax River and Indian River flow into the Atlantic Ocean.
Ponce Inlet Light Station Museum
Construction on the lighthouse began in 1884 and was completed in 1887. Still an active lighthouse, it also serves as the focal point of the Ponce Inlet Light Station and Museum, which includes all of the original dwellings of the keepers as well as other support buildings. Ponce Inlet is one of the only light stations in the United States that has these buildings intact.
There are three keeper’s dwellings that serve as the museum: principal keeper’s, first assistant keeper’s, and second assistant keeper’s. Each building provides visitors with a different piece of history. The principal keeper’s dwelling once was home to the principal keeper and his family. Now it houses exhibits about lighthouses of the world, lighthouses for airplanes, and Native Americans in Florida, to name a few.
The first assistant’s dwelling is not open for actual tours but can be seen through viewing panels on the front and back porches. It was named in honor of Gladys Meyer Davis, whose father served as the last lighthouse service principal keeper at the lighthouse. The building is furnished as it would have been in the late 1800s or early 1900s. In the second assistant keeper’s dwelling, visitors can learn more about the local community, from beach racing to the lives of the keepers and their families. This building actually served as the first town hall for Ponce Inlet in the early 1960s.
A visit to the lighthouse wouldn’t be complete with going inside the Lens Exhibit Building. Before this trip, I did not know about the different types of lenses that are used in lighthouses. I still don’t know a lot, but what I do know is that this is an impressive collection. The rotating first order Fresnel lens from the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is on display as well as the original fixed first order Fresnel lens that was used from 1887 until 1933 in the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.
Learn more about the history of Ponce Inlet Lighthouse through other exhibits onsite. The Ponce De Leon Inlet Light Station and Museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. From Memorial Day to Labor Day the hours are extended until 9:00 p.m. with the last tour beginning at 8:00 p.m. There is an entrance fee which you pay inside the gift shop.