Lighthouses of the United States: South Carolina

The U.S. state of South Carolina has a relatively short and straight coastline facing southeast on the Atlantic Ocean, with Charleston as the principal harbor. Lighthouses survive at eight historic light stations in the state. Developers have restored two of the historic towers and also built several facsimile lighthouses. There is no statewide preservation group, and for the past decade preservation efforts have been focused on the critically endangered Morris Island Light. Several other lighthouses need attention, including Georgetown, Hunting Island, and especially Cape Romain.

Navigational aids in the United States are operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, but ownership (and sometimes operation) of historic lighthouses has been transferred to local authorities and preservation organizations in many cases. All of South Carolina's lighthouses are now in National Park Service, State of South Carolina, or private ownership. The Coast Guard continues to operate lights at only two of them, Georgetown and Sullivan's Island. South Carolina lights are the responsibility of the Coast Guard's Seventh District.

ARLHS numbers are from the ARLHS World List of Lights; Admiralty numbers are from volume J of the Admiralty List of Lights & Fog Signals; USCG numbers are from Vol. III of the U.S. Coast Guard Light List.

General Sources
South Carolina Lighthouses
Excellent photos, travel directions, and accounts by Kraig Anderson.
Beach Bum's Lighthouses: South Carolina
This site by Stephen Wilmoth has accounts and photos of visits to most of the lighthouses.
Online List of Lights - South Carolina
Photos by various photographers posted by Alexander Trabas. The South Carolina collection features photos of Charleston Harbor lights by Capt. Theo Hinrichs.
Lighthouses in South Carolina
Photos (mostly historic photos) available from Wikimedia.
Lighthouses in South Carolina, United States
Aerial photos posted by Marinas.com.
Historic Light Station Information and Photography - South Carolina
Information and historic photos posted by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Leuchttürme USA auf historischen Postkarten
Historic postcard images posted by Klaus Huelse.
NOAA Nautical Chart On-Line Viewer: Atlantic
Nautical charts for the coast can be viewed online.
U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center: Light Lists
The USCG Light List can be downloaded in pdf format.

Cape Romain Light
1857 Cape Romain Light, August 2011
Flickr Creative Commons photo by scpetrel

Horry County Lighthouse
* Governors
1985. Active (privately maintained and unofficial); continuous white light. Approx. 60 ft (18 m) octagonal tower, painted with black and white horizontal bands. Peter T. Lawrence has a good photo, Marinas.com has aerial photos, and Google has an aerial view. The lighthouse was built by a developer in honor of South Carolina's governors. Located on the north side of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway just off US 17 in Little River. Site open, tower closed. Owner/site manager: Lightkeeper's Village.

Georgetown County Lighthouse
Georgetown (North Island) (2)
1867 (extensively rebuilt 1812 lighthouse; station established 1801). Active; focal plane 85 ft (26 m); two white flashes every 15 s. 87 ft (27 m) round old-style brick tower with lantern and gallery, painted white; solar-powered VRB-25 aerobeacon. The 5th order Fresnel lens used prior to 1999 was formerly on display at the Georgetown Coast Guard Station; later it was moved to the museum of the Coast Guard's 7th District headquarters in Miami, and in July 2014 it was put on display on a long-term loan to the South Carolina Maritime Museum in downtown Georgetown. The 1-story brick keeper's house, brick oilhouse (1890), and boathouse (1894) are also preserved. Bonnie Courchesne's photo is at right, Trabas has a closeup photo, Tim Vo has a photo, Wilmoth also has a nice photo, the Coast Guard has a historic photo, Marinas.com has aerial photos, and Google has a satellite view. This is a rare early federal lighthouse, sturdily built with a stone stairway inside the tower. It was altered somewhat after being damaged during the Civil War; its height was raised from 72 to 87 ft (22 to 27 m). The light station was leased to the State of South Carolina in 1988 as part of a juvenile detention and rehabilitation center, but plans for this center were abandoned in 1990. In 2001, the light station was transferred to the state's Department of Natural Resources, which already owned the rest of the island as the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Preserve. Located on North Island facing Winyah Bay, about 1 mi (1.6 km) north of the entrance to the bay and 25 km (15 mi) southeast of Georgetown. Accessible only by boat; cruises out of Georgetown visit the light station. Owner: S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources. Operator: U.S. Coast Guard. Site manager: Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve. ARLHS USA-323; Admiralty J2582; USCG 3-0120.
Georgetown Light
Georgetown Light, North Island, June 2010
Flickr Creative Commons photo
by Bonnie Courchesne (no longer online)

Charleston County Lighthouses
Cape Romain (1)
1827 (Winslow Lewis). Inactive since 1858; charted as a landmark. Ruined 65 ft (20 m) round old-style brick tower, no lantern. This lighthouse is gravely endangered by isolation and neglect. The lower third of the rare wooden spiral stairway has disappeared. Both Cape Romain lighthouses are on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List. Wilmoth has photos from a 2004 visit, and Google has a satellite view. Located close to the 1858 lighthouse (next entry). Site open, tower open but very hazardous. Owner: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Site manager: Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. ARLHS USA-134.
Cape Romain (2)
1858. Inactive since 1947; charted as a landmark. 150 ft (46 m) octagonal brick tower with lantern and galley. The upper half of the tower is painted with vertical black and white stripes, but the lower half is all white. The keeper's house was demolished in the late 1950s. A photo is at the top of this page, Anderson has an excellent page for the lighthouse, the Coast Guard has a historic photo, Marinas.com has aerial photos, and Google has a satellite view. This historic lighthouse is gravely endangered by isolation and neglect. The tower has a long-standing lean of several degrees due to a faulty foundation. The lighthouse was painted and the windows were replaced in the early 1990s, but the rusting stairway is very dangerous. Lighthouse Digest has Wilmoth's account and photos of a 2001 visit, and both Cape Romain lighthouses are on the Digest Doomsday List. In 2011, Tommy Graham, a contractor in McClellanville, was working to organize some emergency repairs to hold the lantern atop the tower. Located on Lighthouse Island (also called Raccoon Key) southeast of McClellanville and about 1.2 km (3/4 mi) northwest of the actual point of the cape. Accessible only by boat, and there is no dock, so visitors must wade ashore. Tours are offered four times each year. Site open, tower open but hazardous. Owner: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Site manager: Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. ARLHS USA-133.
* Charleston (Sullivan's Island, New Charleston)
1962. Active; focal plane 163 ft (50 m); two quick white flashes, separated by 5 s, every 30 s. 140 ft (43 m) aluminum (steel-framed) trapezoidal tower with overhanging lantern, top half black, lower half white; DCB-24 aerobeacon. The station has a historic coastal warning display tower. A photo by Henry de Saussure Copeland is at right, Mark Scott has a fine photo, Trabas has a photo, Wikimedia has several photos, Marinas.com has aerial photos, the Coast Guard has a 1962 photo of the new lighthouse, the local tourist office has a good web page for the lighthouse, and Google has a street view and a satellite view. This is the last lighthouse built by the federal government and the only U.S. lighthouse with an elevator and air conditioning. It was designed by a young architect named Jack Graham, who was serving in the Coast Guard to complete his required military service. In May 2008, the Coast Guard agreed to transfer ownership of the lighthouse to the National Park Service, which already owned the Sullivan's Island Lifesaving Station next door. The formal transfer was made at a ceremony on November 8. The two stations comprise the U.S. Coast Guard Historic District. The Park Service is organizing a friends group to support restoration of the building, and it hopes to open the tower eventually to the public. The 50th anniversary of the lighthouse was celebrated in June 2012. Located on I'on Avenue off SC 703 in Sullivan's Island. Site open (free), tower closed (the base is occasionally opened); group tours can be arranged. Owner: U.S. National Park Service. Operator: U.S. Coast Guard. Site manager: Fort Sumter National Monument. ARLHS USA-825; Admiralty J2646; USCG 3-0195.
Charleston
Charleston Light, Sullivan's Island, May 2010
Flickr Creative Commons photo
by Henry de Saussure Copeland
Fort Sumter Range Rear (2?)
Date unknown. Active; focal plane 170 ft (52 m); white light, 3 s on, 3 s off; a continuous white light is shown in the daytime; also a passing light with a white flash every 6 s exhibited at a focal plane of 50 ft (15 m). 170 ft (52 m) triangular skeletal tower with gallery, mounted on a square platform supported by four piles. Structure painted white. Trabas has Capt. Theo Hinrichs's photo, and Google has an aerial view. The front light is much shorter. This range guides vessels in the Charleston Entrance Channel. A lighthouse built at Fort Sumter in 1855 was destroyed by a hurricane in 1893.When it was rebuilt, it became the front light of a range, and the rear light was placed on the steeple of St. Philip's Church (next entry). In 1915 the rear light was removed and the range was discontinued. It's not known when the present range was established. The rear light now stands almost exactly on the site of the historic Fort Ripley Shoal Light, a cottage screwpile lighthouse built in 1878 and dismantled in 1932. Located in Charleston Harbor about 1.7 mi (2.75 km) east of the southern tip of the city waterfront and 1.4 mi (2.25 km) northwest of Fort Sumter. Accessible only by boat. Site open, tower closed. Owner/site manager: U.S. Coast Guard. Admiralty J2648.1; USCG 3-2390.
* St. Philip's Church (Fort Sumter Range Rear (1))
1893 (church built 1838). Inactive since 1915; charted as a landmark. Light formerly mounted in the steeple of St. Philip's Episcopal Church. Sarah Williams has a 2007 photo, Huelse has a historic postcard view of the church with its light in action, and Google has a street view and a satellite view. The church, one of the best known landmarks of old Charleston, was built in the 1830s, but the steeple wasn't added until the late 1840s. It carried the rear light of the Fort Sumter Range, and in fact the steeple is still in line with the range. Only one other U.S. church, the First Baptist Church of Beverly, Massachusetts, has been used as a lighthouse. Located at 146 Church Street in Charleston. Site open, tower closed. Owner/site manager: St. Philip's Church. ARLHS USA-1163.
Morris Island (Old Charleston) (3)
1876 (Peter Hains) (station established 1767). Inactive since 1962; charted as a landmark. 161 ft (49 m) round brick tower, originally painted with horizontal red and white bands, but the red has weathered to brown. The keeper's house was destroyed in 1939. Incredibly, the original 1st order Fresnel lens was sold at auction in 1938 and dismantled for resale to collectors; the top of the lens has been recovered and is on display at the visitor center at Hunting Island Light. Corey Seeman's photo is at right, Anderson has an excellent page for the lighthouse, a December 2014 photo is available, Anne Hornyak has a photo, Tom Check has a photo, Marinas.com has aerial photos, the Coast Guard has a historic photo showing the keeper's house, and Google has a satellite view. This is the second oldest light station in the Southern U.S., established in 1767. The tower has been gravely endangered since rapid beach erosion left it standing in the open Atlantic northeast of Folly Beach. The lighthouse was a charter member of the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List. Fund raising for preservation was kicked off in 1999 by a $500,000 appropriation from the South Carolina legislature. Preservationists formed Save the Light, Inc. and purchased the light from its private owners in 1999. A 1999 Lighthouse Digest report described the history of the lighthouse and start of the preservation effort. In 2000, the South Carolina Natural Resources Board bought the lighthouse from its private owners for $1 and then leased it to Save the Light for preservation. In 2001 an engineering study called for stabilization of the existing foundation. In 2003, International Chimney Corporation completed a plan for complete restoration. After several frustrating bureaucratic delays, work finally began in June 2007. The first phase, stabilizing the foundation with an external cofferdam, was completed by Taylor Brothers Marine in March 2008. In 2010, Palmetto Gunite Construction was awarded a $1.9 million contract to build 68 concrete pilings to replace the original wood pilings under the lighthouse. State legislators passed special legislation to speed approval of the project so that it could be completed before the fall hurricane season. About $5 million has been spent on the restoration so far, but funds are still needed to complete the exterior restoration and repaint the tower. In 2001 Charleston County purchased as a park the 5.5 acre (2 ha) site of the former Folly Beach Lifesaving Station overlooking the lighthouse. Located off the east end of Folly Beach. There's a good view from land (parking is provided at the end of Ashley Avenue; it's a 1/4 mile (400 m) walk to the beach opposite the lighthouse), and boat tours are available from Folly Beach. Site and tower closed. Owner: State of South Carolina. Site manager: Save the Light, Inc. ARLHS USA-515.
Morris Island Light
Morris Island Light, Folly Beach, November 2011
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Corey Seeman

Beaufort County Lighthouses
*** Hunting Island (2)
1875 (station established 1859). Reactivated (inactive 1933-1995); focal plane 132 ft (40 m); continuous white light with a more intense flash every 30 s. 136 ft (41 m) round cast iron tower, upper third painted black, lower 2/3 white. The keeper's house has been demolished, but the oil house and two storage buildings survive. The upper portion of Morris Island Light's 1st order Fresnel lens is on display in the base of the tower, and the nearby state park visitor center has historical displays. A photo is at right, Trabas has an excellent photo by Michael Boucher, Marinas.com has aerial photos, the Coast Guard has a historic photo showing the keeper's house, and Google has a satellite view and Raymnd Czaplewski's street view. This lighthouse replaced an 1859 tower destroyed during the Civil War. Fears of beach erosion caused the lighthouse to be relocated 1.3 miles (2.2 km) inland in 1889. Rapid beach erosion in the area continues and is threatening the lighthouse again; in September 2014 the Friends of Hunting Island State Park warned that erosion could reach the lighthouse in 5-10 years. The tower was last renovated in 1991. In May 2003, the lighthouse was closed after a broken step was discovered; it reopened in February 2005 after $108,000 in repairs. Wilmoth has posted photos taken at the time of the reopening. Site open (state park entry fee); tower open for climbing daily year round. Owner/operator: South Carolina State Parks (Hunting Island State Park). ARLHS USA-392; Admiralty J2744.5; USCG 3-4065.
[Parris Island Range Rear]
1881. Inactive since about 1912. The rear light was on a 131 ft (40 m) triangular pyramidal cast iron skeletal tower. The tower was demolished long ago, along with the keeper's house and the 45 ft (13.5 m) wooden front light. The brick oil house remains, and after its rediscovery the Marine Corps spent $50,000 to restore the little building in 2005. Trees conceal the building in Google's satellite view. Anderson has a historic drawing of the lighthouse and a second drawing of the front light, a 14 m (45 ft) square wooden skeletal tower with lantern and gallery. The rear light was similar to the 1902 Baker Range Rear Light in Delaware. Located near the south end of the island within the Parris Island marine base. Site closed. Owner: U.S. Marine Corps. Site manager: U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. ARLHS USA-1195.
* Hilton Head Range Rear (Leamington)
1880. Inactive since 1932 (a decorative sodium vapor light is now displayed). 94 ft (29 m) hexagonal pyramidal cast iron skeletal tower with lantern, gallery, and central cylinder, painted white. The brick oil house (1892) remains, but the two keeper's houses have been relocated to Harbour Town, where one serves as a café and the other as a real estate office. Jake Walker has a photo, and Google has a satellite view. This lighthouse has a unique design. The tower was restored by the Palmetto Dunes developer in 1985, and it remains under private management. Nothing has been done to maintain the lighthouse since 1985, and it is in increasingly poor condition. In October 2010, area residents began organizing a support group, and the owner has expressed interest in contributing. Located on the Arthur Hills Golf Course at Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island. Site open by appointment (call ahead), tower closed. Owner: Greenwood Communities and Resorts. Site manager: Palmetto Dunes Resort. ARLHS USA-972.
Hunting Island Light
Hunting Island Light, Hunting Island, October 2008
Flickr Creative Commons photo by scpetrel
*** Harbour Town
1970. Active (privately maintained and now unofficial); focal plane 90 ft (27 m); white flash every 2.5 s. 93 ft (28 m) octagonal cylindrical stucco tower, painted with horizontal red and white bands; acrylic lens. Pat Dye's photo is at right, and Google has a satellite view. Built by developer Charles Fraser, the lighthouse is well known as the symbol of Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island. The lighthouse stands across a marina entrance from the 18th green on the Harbour Town Golf Links, and every April it appears prominently on U.S. television when the Heritage Golf Classic is played on that course. In 2000-01 a $200,000 renovation added air conditioning, improved lighting, and additional historical displays. In 2009 the original lighting equipment was replaced with a solar-powered lens. The light was dropped from the USCG list in 2010 due to its limited navigational value. Located at the end of Lighthouse Road, on the north side of the marina entrance off Calibogue Sound, overlooking the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Site and tower open daily year round (small entry fee for tower). Owner/operator/site manager: Sea Pines Resort. ARLHS USA-1135; ex-Admiralty J2765.7; ex-USCG 3-4395.
Haig Point (Daufuskie Island) (Range Rear)
1872. Reactivated (inactive 1924-1987, now privately maintained); focal plane 47 ft (14 m); white flash every 14 s. 2-1/2 story Victorian wood keeper's house surmounted by a square cylindrical wood tower, painted white; acrylic lens. Carol Highsmith's photo is below, Island Explorer Tours has a 2008 photo, Jim Harper has a 2009 photo, Trabas has a photo, the Coast Guard has a historic photo, and Google has a satellite view. The small front range light has been demolished. The dilapidated lighthouse was first restored in 1965-67 by George H. Bostwick. When International Paper Realty bought all of the area in 1984, the company carried out an archaeological study and then carefully restored the building to its original appearance. It is used as a guest house. In recent years, beach erosion has removed most of the bluff in front of the lighthouse; in 2012, Haig Point property owners contributed $700,000 to armor the bluff with granite boulders. Trees surround the lighthouse on three sides, but it visible as a leading light for southbound vessels. Located on the northeast point of Daufuskie Island opposite the Harbour Town Light, overlooking the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Visible at a distance from Harbour Town Light. Accessible by guided tours from Harbour Town. Site and tower closed. Owner/site manager: Haig Point Community. ARLHS USA-217; Admiralty J2766; USCG 3-4370.
Bloody Point (Daufuskie Island) Range Front (1)
1883. Inactive since 1899. 1-1/2 story wood keeper's house; the light was displayed from a dormer window on the upper story. Currently the house is painted white. A lamp house (very rare) and the oil house are also preserved. Google has a satellite view. The lighthouse was relocated inland in 1899 and a lantern was added to it to serve as the rear light. The range was deactivated in 1922 and the lantern was removed. The house is a private residence; owner Joe Yocius wrote a 2001 feature article on the lighthouse for Lighthouse Digest. However, Yocius placed the lighthouse for sale for $875,000 in April 2009; it was still on the market in 2015. Located at the southern end of Daufuskie Island near the sixth tee of the Bloody Point golf course. Site closed. Owner/site manager: private; the owner was a realtor formerly doing business as Low Country Joe. ARLHS USA-1003.
Harbour Town Light
Harbour Town Light, Hilton Head, January 2009
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Pat Dye

Information available on lost lighthouses:

  • Bloody Point (Daufuskie Island) Range Rear (1883-1899), Daufuskie Island. Anderson discusses this light on his Bloody Point Front Range page. The original rear tower was a 91 ft (28 m) skeletal tower similar to the one at Parris Island. It was dismantled in 1899, when the original front lighthouse was relocated and became the rear light.
  • Bulls Bay (1852-1912), northeast end of Bull Island, between Cape Romain and Charleston. The location of this lighthouse is now underwater, and there is no longer a light on Bull Island. ARLHS USA-1168.
  • Castle Pinckney (1855-1938), on Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor. Three lighthouses occupied this location, which also served as a lighthouse depot from 1890 to 1917. The third lighthouse was deactivated in 1917 and demolished in 1938. There's no light here today. ARLHS USA-1002.
  • Combahee Bank (1868-1876), St. Helena Sound. Nothing remains of the cottage screwpile lighthouse on the bank. Trabas has a distant photo of the modern light, mounted on a tripod dolphin. ARLHS USA-1162; Admiralty J2740; USCG 3-4040.
  • Fort Ripley Shoal (1878-?), Charleston Harbor. The historic cottage screwpile lighthouse was demolished, but the location is occupied now by the Fort Sumter Range Rear Light (see above). ARLHS USA-298.
  • Fort Sumter (Range Front) (1857-1950s), on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The first lighthouse was destroyed during the Civil War. A temporary beacon after the war was replaced by a square cast iron tower; that lighthouse was destroyed by a hurricane in 1893. The fourth lighthouse was a skeletal tower. Trabas has a photo of the modern light, which is about 400 yd (365 m) southeast of the fort. ARLHS USA-299; Admiralty J2648; USCG 3-2385.
  • Haig Point Range Front (1872-1924), Daufuskie Island. Anderson discusses this light on his Haig Point page. The location of the front light is now underwater. ARLHS USA-216.
  • Hilton Head Range Front (1881-?), Hilton Head Island. Anderson discusses this light on his Hilton Head Range page. The range was discontinued in 1932 and nothing remains of the front lighthouse. ARLHS USA-971.
  • Parris Island Range Front (1878-1912), southwest tip of Parris Island. Anderson discusses this light on his Parris Island page. The location of the front light has been list to beach erosion. ARLHS USA-1194.
  • Sullivan's Island Range Lights (1848-early 1900s), on and near Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. These lights have disappeared completely. ARLHS USA-826 (front) and 827 (rear).

Haig Point Light, Daufuskie Island, undated
Library of Congress public domain photo from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive

Adjoining pages: North: North Carolina | South: Georgia

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Posted 2000. Checked and updated July 11, 2015. Lighthouses: 13. Site copyright 2015 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.