Archival U.S. Coast Guard photographs, circa 1885, show South Carolina's Charleston, or Morris Island, Lighthouse surrounded by dense subtropical trees. Adjacent to it is a stately keeper's home built in the grand Victorian style.
This three-story wood-framed residence is painted white with dark shutters, and four red-brick chimneys rise from its steep, shingled roof. Long wooden boat docks project out into the waters of Charleston Bay.
Today all of that has changed completely, as the derelict lighthouse stands alone, with no island around it, about 300 feet from the nearest shoreline. Despite having weathered more than 100 hurricanes and several major earthquakes, the Morris Island Light is now threatened by simple beach erosion. The nearby Charleston Light on Sullivan's Island has lit the way for mariners in the area since 1962.
Those who swim or paddle out to the weathered Morris Island Lighthouse will find on the foundation a cornerstone with a copper plate that reads: "The first stone of this beacon was laid on the 30th of May 1767 in the seventh year of his majesty's reign, George III."
The current tower was actually built in 1876, after a century of preceding lighthouses on the site had come and gone. Standing over 160 feet tall, the existing tower rests on a thick concrete foundation that in turn is set atop deep piles in the mud and sand of the harbor floor.
This partially accounts for why the structure still remains, despite the severe earthquake that ruined much of Charleston in 1886. It is now what navigators call a "day mark" -- a structure that can be seen fairly well on a clear day and can alert passing vessels to the nearby beach.
In recent years a local Charleston organization called Save the Light has purchased the Morris Island Light and, at this writing, is attempting to sell it to the state of South Carolina. Save the Light would like the state, in a joint private-public undertaking, to help restore the light and oversee limited tours.