(Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)
The iconic Alligator Reef Lighthouse, an almost 150-year-beacon that kept maritime traffic clear of perilous coral reefs off the Florida Keys, is to be acquired by an Islamorada community-based organization committed to its preservation.
“Alligator Reef Lighthouse has stood since 1873,” said project organizer Rob Dixon while preparing for Saturday’s “Swim for Alligator Lighthouse” event. “It’s an important part of Islamorada’s local history. “It’s our Statue of Liberty (and it) needs to be saved,” he said.
Alligator Reef Lighthouse is named after the USS Alligator, a U.S. Navy schooner that ran aground on the reef in 1822 and sank. Despite misconceptions, there are no alligators around the lighthouse since the reptiles primarily live in freshwater habitats.
The effort to save the lighthouse and to start the marathon swim event was conceived by Larry Herlth, an Islamorada metal artisan who created detailed replicas of Alligator Reef Lighthouse and other Keys beacons.
“The six lighthouses off the Florida Keys are the biggest collection of iron piling lighthouses anywhere in the world,” said Herlth, whose passion for saving the landmark earned him the moniker Lighthouse Larry. “The history is just phenomenal.”
Alligator Reef Lighthouse and five other aging lighthouses off the Keys were important maritime navigational aids that helped warn ships away from the Keys’ coral reef chain. But modern-day satellite navigation made open-water lighthouses off the Keys obsolete and the structures now fall under the auspices of the General Services Association for disposal. “Our goal is to restore Alligator Lighthouse to as close as we can to its original condition,” Dixon said.