Located on Tybee Island near the entrance to the Savannah River, Tybee Island Light Station and Museum commemorates the Tybee Island Light Station, one of only seven extant Colonial-era lighthouses in the United States. The current Tybee Island Light Station is the fourth lighthouse to be erected on Georgia’s Tybee Island, though its historic support buildings have survived for nearly three centuries. Construction of the island’s first lighthouse was commissioned by James Oglethorpe, founder of the Colony of Georgia, in 1732, with work overseen by Noble Jones of Wormsloe Plantation.
Completed in 1736, the first structure was not a modern lighthouse but an unlit 90-foot daymark, made of brick and cedar piles erected in an octagonal arrangement. The early structure was highly vulnerable to storm damage, however, and was completely destroyed in 1741. A replacement daymark was constructed the following year, standing four feet taller than its predecessor and bearing a flagstaff, but its foundation was soon threatened by rising tides. In 1768, the Georgia Assembly commissioned the construction of a third structure, removed enough from the island’s shoreline to prevent water damage. The daymark, completed in 1773 under the supervision of architect John Mullryne, was transferred to the control of the United States Lighthouse Establishment in 1971 and converted into a lighthouse lit with oil lamps, with a second tower added nearby in 1822.
The third lighthouse range was a casualty of the American Civil War, when Confederate troops set fire to the structure in 1861 to prevent its use by Union naval troops. Following the war, the Lighthouse Establishment made the decision to rebuild on top of the remains of the existing structure, which still remained intact at its base, instead of erecting a new structure. Reconstruction on a renovated and fireproofed tower began in 1866, raising the tower’s height to 154 feet and equipping it with new lenses.
Though the fourth Tybee Island Light Station has sustained damage over the years as a result of weather and natural disasters, it remains one of the most intact fully functional historic lighthouses in the United States today. It retains its historic 1916 daymark, featuring the restored black-white-black color scheme it displayed in the 1960s. The tower’s light station, electrified in 1933 and automated in 1972, contains an original First Order Fresnel Lens. The light station and its adjoining facilities are managed by the Tybee Island Historical Society, a nonprofit organization established in 1961.
In addition to the historic lighthouse, visitors may tour the facility’s three Lightkeeper’s Cottages, an 1812 Summer Kitchen, and the Tybee Island Museum, housed inside the nearby Battery Garland, an 1899 Endicott-period military battery facility formerly operated as part of Fort Screven. Museum exhibits detail the history of Tybee Island, from its occupancy by the Euchee indigenous tribe through the operation of Fort Screven as a military post during the Spanish-American War and both World Wars. Archaeological holdings are also on display at the Summer Kitchen, and the cottages serve as living history examples of turn-of-the-century architecture in the American Southeast.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Scheduled tours are required for groups of 10 or more, including school groups and small organizations. Special tours are offered for scouting organizations and other groups with custom educational requirements. Parking for tour buses is provided in the adjacent lighthouse parking lot, and all groups must register upon arrival and receive wristbands at the light station’s gift shop.
Private sunset tours for visitors ages 12 and up are offered periodically, consisting of 90-minute docent-led tours culminated in a climb to the lighthouse’s upper level for views of Tybee Island at sunset. Reservations for sunset tours are required and tickets are nonrefundable. Groups of 10 or more may also call to schedule private group sunset tours.
A Tybee Island Farmers and Artisan Market is held in the back field near the light station on Monday evenings from March through October. As a community farmer’s market, the event offers fresh produce grown by local farmers, as well as specialty foods by local bakeries and restaurants and handcrafted goods and art from a variety of vendors.
In addition to lighthouse-themed souvenirs and art, the Tybee Island Light Station gift shop sponsors an engraved brick program, offering personalized commemorative engraved bricks along the station’s historic walkways. Bricks may be purchased in commemoration of important persons and events and will be installed at the light station within a year of purchase. Hand-painted address signs are also available for residents of Tybee Island’s historic district. All proceeds serve as donations to the Tybee Island Historical Society.
30 Meddin Dr, Tybee Island, GA 31328, Phone: 912-786-5801