The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, Inc. is a private, non-profit museum dedicated to its mission “to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation's Oldest Port as symbolized by our working St. Augustine Lighthouse.
Our Board of Directors and Staff do this in many ways by:
Providing authentic, enjoyable experiences for families, students and scholars;
Researching, interpreting and presenting a variety of educational opportunities;
Collecting artifacts representing the rich maritime history of the nation’s oldest port region;
Working not only to preserve our own light station but to advocate for the preservation of other lighthouses in our state, nation and around the world, and helping to support other historic museums;
Performing original maritime archaeological research and present our findings as publications, exhibits, and programs for students, scholars and the general public; and
Serving our community as a sight for education, weddings, remembering others, and joining in volunteerism and civic engagement.
Each year, our museum introduces over 53,000 school age students to marine sciences and maritime history through camp programs, specialty tours, interactive exhibits, historic boat building, on-line exhibitions, outreach programs, family visits, school tours, and programing scholarships.
Our camps reach out to underserved and at-risk populations through a formal partnership with the St. Johns County School System. Scholarships made possible by Museum donors allow almost half our camp students to attend camps despite their economic means. Camps also reduce food stress for needy families in the summer and during school breaks. Camps also provide child care for working parents during the summer, spring and winter vacations.
Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students from around the world visit the Museum every summer for one of the nation’s only museum-organized, underwater archaeology field schools. These students have the rare chance to gain valuable job experience in their chosen field by working with our archaeological team to perform underwater research on the hundreds of documented shipwrecks and other submerged cultural resources located in a State of Florida designated archaeological underwater reserve. Dive instructors combine rigorous safety training with scientific diving, archaeological science, and history to make for a well-rounded field school experience.
Thanks to the dedication of the Junior Service League (JSL) of St. Augustine, a massive preservation effort to restore the St. Augustine Light Station began in 1980 and lasted until 1995.
Over $1.2 million was raised to restore the burned out 1876 Keepers’ House (pictured at right), and then the 1874 Lighthouse tower. The latter had been boarded up behind a chain link fence, closed to the public.
Finally, JSL volunteers worked with Chief Boatswains Mate Joe Cocking and Machinist Nick Johnston of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to perform the world’s first restoration of a Fresnel lens. A vandal’s bullet, a 30.06, ricocheted inside the 1876 lens and damaged 19 of the original prisms including one of three bull’s-eye panels. The USCG considered replacement of this rare artifact with a modern airport beacon, but today, thanks to these wonderful volunteers, the Parisian porch light for St. Augustine still shines as it has for more than 140 years.
The Museum opened to the public full time in May of 1994, and hired its first museum professionals as staff that same year. In 1998, it separately incorporated from the JSL as a community based museum with a non-profit, educational mission and a vision to become a distinguished center of maritime discovery. The Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, Inc. (called LAMP) was founded in 1999, as the research arm of the Museum and a resource for Museum educators. A Visitors' Center was added in 2000, and in 2016 a Maritime Archaeology & Education Center is being constructed as the WWII barracks and a garage used for Jeep Maintenance is restored.
In 2002, the Museum won the National Trust for Historic Preservation‘s National Preservation Award for helping to pass the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The Museum was given the Lighthouse tower and Fresnel lens by the USCG via the National Park Service and the General Services Administration. The Museum purchased the remainder of the 6.5-acre light station in 2016 from St. Johns County.
That same year the exhibition, Wrecked! opened to rave reviews. Wrecked! tells the story of a British shipwreck, which sank in St. Augustine’s treacherous sand bar on New Year’s Eve 1782, at the end of the American Revolution as a consequence of the evacuation of Charleston, SC.
Keeping History Alive Every Day
The Museum today serves 225,000 visitors each year. The Interpretive Division provides docent-led guided tours that are free with the cost of admission, on the hour between 11 am and 4 pm each day. This includes a tour of artifact conservation areas featuring artifacts from historic shipwrecks. Ship modeling, Heritage Boat Building and interactive exhibitions use visual, audio, tactile, and kinesthetic learning to share information with everyone.
Visitors can climb 219 steps up the historic lighthouse to see a breathtaking view of St. Augustine and the waters of the oldest continually occupied European port city in the continental United States.