Morris Island Lighthouse

What was once a beacon to ships out to sea now juts out of the Atlantic Ocean as a reminder of days gone by.

The Morris Island Lighthouse, a defunct lighthouse just north of Folly Beach on Morris Island at the entrance of the Charleston Harbor, stands just a few hundred feet off the coast. Its light never shines, but it remains a beloved historical site for both locals and vacationers.

The 161-foot lighthouse tower was completed in 1876 for $149,993. A Fresnel lens powered by lard oil shone light out over the water to guide ships safely to shore. Although the sole function of the lighthouse was to provide safer navigation for ships and vessels, the lighthouse itself was frequently at risk.

During its run as a working lighthouse, it was partially destroyed by a cyclone in 1885. In 1886, an earthquake shook the lens of the main light out of position and cracked the tower. Though these incidents provided blows to the lighthouse, nothing threatened the structure as much as the rapidly encroaching water.

In 1876 the lighthouse stood 1,200 feet from the coast, but when jetties were created in 1889 to protect shipping lanes, natural erosion was intensified and the ocean crept closer and closer. By 1938, the erosion was so great that the lighthouse became automated. Less than 30 years later in 1962 the lighthouse was too close to the shore and state officials ordered it to close.

The Morris Island Lighthouse was replaced by Charleston Light on the north side of nearby Sullivan’s Island. Now the lighthouse is preserved by the State of South Carolina and is under a 99-year contract with Save the Light, Inc. to preserve the historical structure through stabilization, erosion, and restoration. Save the Light also hosts events to raise funds for the preservation of the relic. Currently, a cement barrier is being constructed to help further preserve the tower.

  1. Are there still unofficial tours of the inside of the lighthouse? I would love to tour it and take some photos. Just email me if anyone can help with this! Thanks!

  2. I lived at the north end of Folly Beach, just a few houses up from the entrance to the old Coast Guard base, in the early to mid 90’s. We use to paddle our Kayaks out to the light and climb up to the top. I once even spent the night inside. At that time there were missing steps and we would climb very cautiously up the stairs. There were numerous cracks and openings in the walls Although a tremendous experience, i realize now how dangerous it was now. In order for the light house to be opened up for people to visit, a lot of money would have to be invested to make it safe.It probably can’t be done, so everyone will have to enjoy it’s awesomeness from afar.

  3. I journeyed to the top a few times in the 70’s. It was not in such horrible shape then. It is unbelievable how much it declined in such a short period of time relatively. The Save the Lighthouse Group is really doing a great job of making people aware of the need to restore this rather quickly. It would be wonderful if at some pont it could be restored enough where people could climb back up. The view was amazing. Vandalism is also an issue. I will never understand people who take pleasure out of destroying something for the joy of it and being so mean to ruin something that is there for everybody to enjoy. Of course then we have to worry about the litiginous folks….

  4. I’m a novelist who’s looking for more information about the “Save the Lighthouse” campaign. Feel free to contact me with email/phone information; I’ll visit Folly Beach in the next few weeks and would like an opportunity to interview those who might provide details.

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