Charleston Light

July 22, 2019

Charleston Light (Sullivan's Island Lighthouse), Sullivan's Island, South Carolina


Station Established: 1962
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1962
Operational? YES
Automated? YES 1975
Deactivated: n/a
Foundation Materials: CONCRETE
Construction Materials: STEEL/ALUMINUM ALLOY SKIN
Relationship to Other Structure: INTEGRAL
Original Lens: DCB 24 1962

Historical Information:

  • Erosion of land caused the Coast Guard to begin construction of a new lighthouse in 1960. The new light was commissioned on June 15, 1962. The tower stands 163 feet high on the north side of Charleston Harbor entrance on Sullivans Island.


Location: Morris Island / Charleston Harbor Entrance
Station Established: 1767
Year Current Tower(s) First Lit: 1876
Operational? NO
Automated? YES 1938
Deactivated: 1962
Construction Materials: DRESSED STONE
Height: 155'
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: FIRST ORDER, FRESNEL 1858
Characteristic: Fixed white

Historical Information:

The Charleston Light, located on Morris Island, at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, S. C., was one of the colonial lights turned over to the Federal Government under the terms of the act of August 7, 1789. The light was in a brick tower, built by the Colony of South Carolina in 1767. On May 7, 1800, Congress appropriated $5,000 for repairing the lighthouse. In 1838 the light was described as a revolving light, the tower being 102 feet from the base to the lantern. A new first-order lens was installed in the tower on January 1, 1858.

On December 20, 1860, on receiving reports from the lighthouse inspector at Charleston regarding the probable seizure of the lighthouse property by the Confederacy, the Secretary of the Lighthouse Board wrote the Secretary of the Treasury that he would not recommend "that the coast of South Carolina be lighted by the Federal Government against her will." Ten days later the inspector at Charleston informed the Board that "the Governor of the State of South Carolina has requested me to leave the State. I am informed that forcible possession has been taken of the lights, buoys, etc., of this harbor, and that similar measures will be adopted in regard to all lights in the State." Early in January 1861, the Rattlesnake Shoal Lightship was towed into Charleston and the lighthouse tenders were seized. By the latter part of April 1861, practically all lights were extinguished, lightships removed, and other aids removed or destroyed from the Chesapeake to the Rio Grande, with the exception of some of the lights on the Florida coast and reefs.

In 1862 the Lighthouse Board reported "Charleston, lens and lantern destroyed." In all, 164 lights were forcibly discontinued during the Civil War on the southern coasts. These were relighted from time to time, and by 1866, the greater part had been restored. The Charleston Channel was re-marked promptly on the occupation of the city by Union troops in February 1865.  In 1865 the Lighthouse Board reported "that an almost total change had taken place, leaving no channel in the harbor as it was in 1860, and opening new ones. Under this altered state of things it became necessary to establish lights temporarily at such places as would be useful guides through existing channels and omit all other.

On March 3, 1873, Congress made the first of three appropriations for a new lighthouse on Morris Island. $60,000 was granted on that date for "commencing the rebuilding of a first-order seacoast light on Morris Island destroyed during the war." Two other appropriations totaling $90,000 in 1874 and 1875 were for completing the work. The new structure was to be at or near the same spot as the old tower, 150 feet high and built of brick, with a first-order flashing light. Foundation piles were driven and the space between them filled with concrete 8 feet thick. The new tower, when completed in 1876, was 161 feet in height and the cost was $149,993.50. A first-order Fresnel lens was installed. In 1884 the illuminating apparatus was changed for the use of mineral oil instead of lard oil.

The cyclone of August 25, 1885, destroyed the rear beacon of the Morris Island range, overturned part of the brick wall which enclosed the tower and dwelling of the main light, carried away the bridge between the beacons, and destroyed a large part of the plank walks connecting the several lights and dwellings, and overturned the boathouse. The range was reestablished 3 days later by a temporary beacon. A new wooden skeleton structure 40 feet high was built in 1885.

The earthquake of August 1886 threw the lens of the main light out of position and cracked the tower extensively in two places, but not so as to endanger its stability. The lens was replaced and the cracks repaired without delay. 

Erosion of land caused the Coast Guard to begin construction of a new lighthouse in 1960. The new light was commissioned on June 15, 1962. The tower stands 163 feet high on the north side of Charleston Harbor entrance on Sullivans Island.