Can you imagine looking out beyond Folly’s shores and not seeing the Morris Island Lighthouse? The historic beacon has stood like a treasured sentinel at the entrance to Charleston Harbor since originally being erected in 1767, and most of us only envision a future that includes the iconic maritime structure.
But the unfortunate reality is that, unless we take measures to protect the integrity of the structure and preserve the lighthouse for generations to come. Such is the mission of the grassroots organization known as Save the Light which, since purchasing the lighthouse for $75,00 in 1999, has been hard at work to ensure its survival.
“No one that is alive today has ever known a time when the Morris Island Lighthouse — the ‘Old Charleston Main Light’ — wasn’t there at the entrance to Charleston Harbor!,” Save the Light board member Denis Blyth told FollyBeach.com. “It is as much a part of the fabric of our community as any other building in our city. It is the most beloved symbol of South Carolina’s maritime roots. And it is in serious trouble.”
Without help, Blyth asserted, the Morris Island Lighthouse will certainly crumble and be lost. Happily, the good souls of Save the Light can rest a little easier — the organization received a much needed boost in the form of a $10,000 donation from Georgia-based SeaPak Shrimp and Seafood Co.
The generous donation came as part of SeaPak’s new alliance with the U.S. Lighthouse society. SeaPak was searching in earnest for a way to help the country’s coastline and was instantly drawn to the opportunity of helping preserve Morris Island Lighthouse, given the company’s recent release of a new Lighthouse Selections line of frozen seafood products.
“As a company with a strong coastal heritage, SeaPak has a special fondness for lighthouses and coastal history,” explained SeaPak’s Director of Marketing, Megan Grinstead, via press release, “and through our quality seafood products, we’ve long been committed to making life ‘more coastal’ for our consumers. When we started searching for ways to support the country’s coastline, it became clear that a partnership with the U.S. Lighthouse Society would be one of the most meaningful ways we could help preserve America’s coastal history.”
And what a history it is here in Charleston!
When colonists first arrived in 1671, they settled in the area that is presently James Island and the Battery. Within a few years of settling, the colonists decided to burn a light every night on a nearby small island (which would eventually become known as Morris Island) as a rudimentary sort of navigational landmark. They used balls of oakum and pitch suspended in iron baskets.
In 1767, though King George III requested a lighthouse be built to replace this system. The first lighthouse to be built among the colonies, the original structure stood only 42 feet tall and burned fish oil in lamps suspended from its interior dome.
The light of Morris Island Lighthouse was extinguished during the Revolutionary War so as not to give away Charleston’s position but, in 1838, a second, taller tower replaced the first. Sadly, this lighthouse was not nearly as lucky during the Civil War — it withstood severe erosion, earthquakes, and more before ultimately becoming another casualty of war.
Another tower, this time 150 feet, was built in 1876. Today, that very tower remains at water’s edge on Morris Island, an uninhabited 840 acre plot of land only a few hundred feet off the coast just north of Folly Beach. Although long ago decommissioned, Morris Island Lighthouse remains one of the Lowcountry’s most enduring symbols.
According to Blyth, the new grant from SeaPak will help fund an assessment of the current condition of the Morris Island Lighthouse and help “determine what steps are necessary to further preserve the coastal icon.”
Of course, as generous as SeaPak’s contribution is, it isn’t the only way willing hearts can help save the Lighthouse. Suggested Blyth, “Go to our website, SavetheLight.org, and become a member of Save the Light, Inc. Make a donation to our efforts. Check out our ‘Events’ page on the website and join us at our upcoming fundraising events — think barbecue, oysters, music and fun! On Facebook, join our group ‘Save the Morris Island Lighthouse.'”
You heard the man, people! Let’s get out there and show Morris Island Lighthouse how much we love Her.