At the southern end of Gasparilla Island, the unique Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum is a most interesting place to be immersed in history. The lighthouse building is almost identical to the nearby keeper’s quarters. Both sit in the Gasparilla Island State Park in this part of Florida that dates to the 1880s, when phosphate was mined a few miles inland on the Peace River.
The museum’s exhibit panels delve into the history of the area from the Spanish/Calusa culture, through the thriving railroad and port town of the mid-20th Century and up to the current era. I learned that the Calusa, a Native-American tribe, were in the area for centuries prior to the arrival of the Spanish explorers at the beginning of the 16th Century.
The Spanish were perpetually seeking to create an easy route between Mexico and Cuba. Centuries later, as a result of Florida’s phosphate mining and trade, Congress appropriated $35,000 for the construction of this lighthouse at the southern tip of Gasparilla Island. It was first lit in December 1890.
The lighthouse, a two-story wood frame dwelling raised on iron pilings, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Local homeowners raised funds to restore it in the mid 1980s. And in 1986, the lighthouse was re-commissioned when a 377 millimeter drum lens was installed in the lantern room.
When the lighthouse building was in peril due to beach erosion, a 265-foot granite jetty was built to protect the area. According to www.LighthouseFriends.com, Florida Power and Light then pumped 100,000 cubic yards of fill to protect the tip of the island and the lighthouse itself.
As is true today, Boca Grande’s extensive fishing grounds were part of the draw for the early explorers and residents. Tarpon are abundant at the Boca Grande Pass, the deepest natural port in Florida. The beauty of the aquamarine Gulf waters in this area doesn't require a fishing pole to enjoy. When you visit, take a boat cruise around the breathtakingly beautiful waters.
Today, the Gulf Islands are internationally renowned as one of the world’s top sport fishing destinations. And the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, along with the Boca Grande Rear Range Light, still helps them safely navigate the area.