Georgia's smallest lighthouse is located on a piece of land that is actually part of Cockspur Island, site of Fort Pulaski. The first lighthouse built here, in the South Channel of the Savannah River north of Tybee Island dates back to 1772; the current lighthouse was built in 1857.
Little is known about the first structure, but work on the second tower began on March 31, 1837 and was completed in November, 1839. Although this tower was built without a light originally, one was added in 1849, during an extensive renovation / rebuild. Since the islet on which Cockspur Lighthouse was built is covered with water during high tide, the lighthouse keeper lived on Cockspur Island or another nearby island and traveled by boat to the lighthouse. The keeper also maintained a second lighthouse, known as Oyster Beds Lighthouse in the North Channel.
In 1853 Mary Maher became the lighthouse keeper at Cockspur after her husband (Cornelius Maher, lighthouse keeper 1851-1853) drowned in a boating accident at the lighthouse. She was one of the first women employed by the U. S. Lighthouse Board, which was the federal service responsible for maintaining the lighthouse. A 1857 hurricane caused extensive structural damage but the lighthouse was rebuilt.
Union troops established a beachhead on Tybee Island in November, 1861. When Capt. Quincy Gillmore arrived to construct the batteries from which nearby Fort Pulaski would be bombarded, he was greatly concerned about the Cockspur Lighthouse. Keeping it in working order was a priority, since Tybee and the Savannah River would play an important part in the coming Union blockade of the South. He ordered his men to avoid aiming at the lighthouse if possible. Beginning on April 10, 1862 and continuing to noon the following day, Gillmore's men poured cannon-fire at Fort Pulaski, breached its walls in two places yet only did minor damage to Cockspur Lighthouse. In spite of Gillmore's efforts to preserve it, for the rest of the war Cockspur would remain unlit.
Following the Civil War the lighthouse was returned to service. The most famous person associated with the lighthouse is Florence Martus, sister of George Washington Martus, keeper of the lighthouse in the 1880's. She is the "Waving Girl" who greeted each ship coming into the Savannah River near her home. She was so well known to sailors that the United States named a Liberty Ship in her honor and the citizens of Savannah dedicated a waterfront statue depicting her waving a towel at a passing ship.
Cockspur Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1909 and abandoned in 1949. The National Parks Service began to manage the property in 1958 and has overseen three restorations since then.
Visiting Cockspur Lighthouse
According to the National Park Service, the lighthouse is open to visitors. At low tide you can walk (actually, its more like wade) to the lighthouse, or you can row your own boat (there is no supervised tour).
Location: South Channel, Savannah River
Directions: Take I-16 to the Montgomery St. Exit (Savannah / Civic Center/ Downtown, the last exit). Travel .3 miles north on Montgomery. Turn right on Liberty St., travel .7 miles and turn left on Broad St. Continue for .2 miles and turn right on President St. In about 10 miles you will see the sign for Fort Pulaski. Turn left, cross the bridge and park. Note:President St. becomes Island Parkway.
Date added: March 1, 2004
Last update: September 16, 2008
Other Attractions in Savannah
Historic Squares of Savannah
Old Fort Jackson
St. Simons Lighthouse