The Florida reef lights date back to 1852 when Carysfort Reef Lighthouse was completed under the direction of Lt. George Meade of the Army Corps of Engineers. Sombrero Key Lighthouse was built a few years later, and then Alligator Reef was built as the third of the reef lights in 1873. Alligator Reef Lighthouse is about four nautical miles offshore from the village of Islamorada. The reef is named for the U.S. Navy schooner Alligator, which was launched at Boston in 1820.
The lighthouse was established on the northeast end of the reef in 1873, with a light 136 feet above the water. The iron skeletal tower stands on pilings that are driven 10 feet into the coral. The cost of construction was $185,000, making it a very expensive project at the time. The light was automated and de-staffed in 1963. In 2021, under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, the lighthouse was deeded to Friends of the Pool, Inc., a local nonprofit organization that has held an annual eight-mile round-trip swimming race to the lighthouse.
There are two guests in this episode, and both are leaders of the effort to preserve Alligator Reef Lighthouse. Rob Dixon is a longtime charter fishing boat operator and open water swimmer based in Islamorada, and he’s the president of Friends of the Pool. Larry Herlth is a metal artisan specializing in incredibly detailed replicas of the Florida Keys Lighthouses, and he’s also a swimmer who inaugurated the Swim for Alligator Lighthouse. He’s known widely as Lighthouse Larry.
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org