The Friends of the Cape Romain Lighthouses aims to help maintain and preserve the two lighthouses located within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The two lighthouses warned mariners of the dangerous shoals of Cape Romain for over a century. The first lighthouse was constructed in 1827. However, this lighthouse stood only 65 feet above sea level and used a system of lamps and reflectors that did not provide adequate light. A second lighthouse was constructed in 1857 and was lit on the first of January 1858. With a focal plane 161 feet above sea level, its First Order Fresnel lens could be viewed from a distance of 19 miles, providing a much-improved warning system for passing ships.
The method of construction of the 1857 Cape Romain Lighthouse – cast iron stairs supported by masonry walls and a cast iron column – has created an interesting preservation challenge. Over the years, the cast iron has oxidized, or rusted. As iron oxidizes and corrodes, it also expands in size. This expansion pushes the masonry, causing cracks to form. While the cracking is not as pronounced on the lower walls where the masonry is very thick, it is a serious concern on the upper portions on the tower, where the wall is thinner.
Furthermore, the corrosion of the iron has caused a significant number of the stairs to fail, many of them falling completely away from the staircase. This makes access to the interior of the lighthouse difficult and dangerous. Plans are in place to remove the cast iron stairs and replace them with wooden stairs. The new staircase would once again provide safe access to the lantern deck of the tower, and wooden stairs would be easier to maintain and repair.
Friends of the Cape Romain Lighthouses is currently raising funds to replace the stairs and repair the masonry damage to the 1857 tower. If you’d like to make a donation to help preserve the lighthouses, you may mail a check to the Village Museum in McClellanville. Please note that your donation is intended for the lighthouse preservation project. The mailing address for the museum is: PO Box 595, McClellanville, SC 29458.