The light went out on this Florida Keys lighthouse 10 years ago. Then came a rescue

One of the six lighthouses watching over the coral reefs in the Florida Keys is shining again after going dark a decade ago.

Thanks to the fundraising efforts of a group of Islamorada people who own the title to the 150-year-old Alligator Lighthouse, solar-powered lights in the 135-foot high structure make its presence known in the dark of night.

“And now our Statue of Liberty is lit once again,” Rob Dixon, executive director of Save Alligator Lighthouse, a community group that took possession of the lighthouse from the federal government in 2021.

The new lights not only illuminate the structure, they serve as a beacon to attract donations for the estimated $6 million that Dixon says is needed to fully restore the lighthouse.

“We lit Alligator Lighthouse up so the whole community could be focused, even at nighttime,” Dixon said.

The lighthouse is anchored in the coral about four miles offshore of Indian Key and is named after the USS Alligator, a Navy schooner that ran aground on the reef and sank in 1822, according to the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

Boaters watch a sunset behind Alligator Reef Lighthouse Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, off Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
Boaters watch a sunset behind Alligator Reef Lighthouse Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, off Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

The six lighthouses along the Florida Keys reef were once essential guides for sailors to safely navigate off the island chain. But modern satellite navigation has rendered them obsolete.

The five other lighthouses — Fowey Rocks, Carysfort, Sombrero, American Shoal and Sand Key — are now under the authority of the General Services Administration, the federal government’s property management agency.

The GSA had put Carysfort, American Shoal and Sombrero up for auction. The agency did not respond to questions about their status, and its website no longer has any lighthouses listed for auction.

Dixon’s group has already raised about $500,000 for Alligator Lighthouse, including $215,000 from the Tourist Development Council. An engineering study concluded millions of dollars more are needed to fully renovate the structure.

“We’ve got a great community behind us; we’ve got a lot of support,” he said. “There’s nobody in this community that doesn’t want to help our project.”