Shine On Sanibel: Relighting of Lighthouse Signals Hope, Strength, Resiliency

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

The iconic Sanibel Lighthouse is once more a beacon on the east end of the island, a shining signal of hope in the midst of recovery from Hurricane Ian. The light was turned back on in an early morning ceremony Feb. 28, five months to the date of the storm’s historic landfall.

The Sanibel Lighthouse shines again on the east end of the island. The caretaker cottages were casualties of the storm. SC file photo

Mayor Holly Smith described it as extremely emotional to be a part of such a special moment. She said we are all a bit broken by Ian, but healing every day – much like the lighthouse. “The moment she shined, we all did, as well.”

The lighthouse stands 98 feet above sea level on an iron skeleton tower with a central spiral staircase. It was erected in the 1880’s to mark the entrance of San Carlos Bay, but has since become an emblem of this special place. It now stands strong as a survivor of Ian’s wrath.

Administrative Director Crystal Mansell said structural engineers believe the lighthouse was struck by one of the caretaker cottages when they were swept off their pilings in the storm surge and pushed into the western primary column supporting the drum, breaking it.

The lighthouse ladder to the drum and landing consequently suffered damage, and horizontal struts and tie rods were broken. The electrical service pole had crumbled and snapped into pieces and the meter box was damaged beyond repair.

A temporary wooden support column was designed by an engineer and bolted to the broken steel column to stabilize the lighthouse. Belfor Property Restoration fabricated the column onsite using engineered wood made to withstand the beach-front elements. And electrical repairs were completed in February.

“I think the lighthouse beacon, now that it is shining again, stands as a powerful symbol of our island’s physical and mental resiliency and is lighting our path to recovery,” said Sanibel City Manager Dana Souza.

While the lighthouse survived that fateful day, iron pilings and a small part of a porch were all that remained of the historic caretaker cottages. Pieces of the island’s history swept into the Gulf of Mexico, gone forever.

“We have much to do in the months and years ahead to restore Sanibel,” Souza said. “But seeing the lighthouse beacon from the Causeway or Fort Myers Beach makes my heart skip a bit and gives me great hope.”

Mayor Smith said Feb. 28, 2023 will be “forever marked in the history of Sanibel. The world is watching with pride as we Shine on Sanibel.”

The Sanibel Lighthouse and all the structures on the 47 acres at the eastern tip of the island have been owned by the City of Sanibel since April 2010, when the federal government transferred the ownership patent. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse lens, while the city maintains the structure. Repair costs were covered under the city’s insurance.

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