~ brief history — 1938 ~
The Morris Island Lighthouse, originally constructed 1200 feet onshore, is now at the water's edge. The housing complex is dismantled and the lighthouse is automated on June 22.
On June 22, 1938, the Morris Island Lighthouse was converted to a mechanized light operation. The mechanized light was a four-power acetylene lens. The first order Fresnel lens was removed and placed into storage at the Lighthouse Depot in Charleston. The Army Corps of Engineers built a sheet steel bulkhead around the base of the lighthouse to protect against erosion. This bulkhead was a 68-foot cylinder set to four feet above ground and filled with reinforced concrete. The keepers were relocated to the Lighthouse Depot in Charleston.
The decision was made to remove the remaining buildings on Morris Island. The fear was if they were allowed to wash away, the debris would surely create a hazard for mariners. Many Charlestonians believed that the keepers' house was washed away by the tides. In fact, a local doctor, Dr. Richard Prentiss, bought the dwelling as surplus government property for $55.
Starting at the roof, the crew spent four weeks disassembling the entire house. The first load of material was taken by barge to the Puckhaber dock at Secessionville on James Island and unloaded. The second load was taken by barge to Younges Island, unloaded and hauled to Edisto Island. Dr. Prentiss used all the material to build two houses on Edisto Island Beach. Unfortunately, some years later, the beach houses were destroyed by a storm and most material washed out to sea. The only artifacts left from the keepers' house today are several support beams in Mr. Muckinfuss' house to support a second floor bedroom and a wooden sign on his mailbox. Finally, a beautiful window frame in his daughter's house on James Island is one of the original window frames from Morris Island.
In 1939, as part of President Roosevelt's Reorganization Act, the U.S. Lighthouse Service merged with the U.S. Coast Guard. The operation of the Morris Island Lighthouse only required a monthly inspection. The light was fed by acetylene gas in batteries of cylinders. The fourth order acetylene lamp had 6,000 candlepower and flashed four times every 30 seconds, visible for 19 miles. Keeper W. H. Hecker was now responsible for all the buoys, lights and markers, including the lighthouse that guide ships to the harbor.
As World War II settled in, the Morris Island Lighthouse found itself, oddly enough, in the midst of this war as well. The South Carolina coast was never attacked, but Naval Aviators were trained by dropping live bombs on houses on the northeast end of Folly Beach. Of course, the lighthouse is in close proximity to this end of Folly. These large and repeated blasts opened several cracks in the concrete base poured around the lighthouse in 1938. The impacts of this bombing may have been the greatest challenge to the security of the Morris Island Lighthouse since the 1886 earthquake.
In a 1948 article in the "Charleston Evening Post" entitled, "Old Morris Island Lighthouse Continues Battle Against Sea," the Coast Guard notes the role of the lighthouse in guiding ships is less important since the establishment of the Loran (Long Range Radio Finding) Station on the north end of Folly Beach. The station transmits a fixed radio beacon out to sea that ships can pick up more than 100 miles, while the light only reaches 18.5 miles. This beam guides the ships to the Charleston channel. The article also quotes the Coast Guard saying, "There is little fear that the Atlantic will undermine the foundation of one of the oldest lighthouses on the U.S. Coast." One challenge to the lighthouse beyond the sea is the ducks and geese that are so plentiful on the coast. The 3/8-inch glass in the lantern room had been smashed on numerous occasions by ducks and geese flying at high speeds at night.
In February 1956, the Coast Guard announced its intention to build a new lighthouse on Sullivans Island and discontinue the Morris Island Lighthouse. The Old Charleston Light was now located too far off the shipping channel. When the lighthouse was built, the channel ran adjacent to Morris Island. Furthermore, because the lighthouse lists slightly seaward, the light did not reach far enough out to sea. The new location on Sullivans Island would align the light with the main channel.
On January 14, 1957, the Board of Harbor Commissioners of the Port of Charleston passed a resolution supporting the replacement of the light, but urged retention of the old tower. Many local mariners and fishermen voiced strong support for leaving the Morris Island lighthouse as a marine landmark and attraction, noting its location as the best channel bass and trout fishing in the area. By February 1958, the Coast Guard informed Charleston Congressman L. Mendel Rivers that it would have no further use for the Morris Island Lighthouse once the Sullivans Island Lighthouse was built. This cleared the way for the General Services Administration (GSA) to take over the lighthouse and dispose of it. In August 1959, the Coast Guard District Headquarters in Miami made the formal announcement of the approval for the Sullivans Island Lighthouse to replace the Morris Island Lighthouse. The Coast Guard expected to award the contract in the spring of 1960.
The Coast Guard also announced plans to auction the old first order Fresnel lens from the Morris Island Lighthouse. This lens had been held in storage at the Coast Guard Base at Tradd Street for 44 years. The valuable lens was taken out when the lighthouse was automated in 1938 and an acetylene lens was installed. The Coast Guard, several months later, decided to give the Fresnel lens to the S.C. State Parks department to be used in a museum being created at the Hunting Island Lighthouse.