History of Cape San Blas
History courtesy of Gulf County Department of Tourism
Once a bustling seaport, it was here that delegates from all counties in Territorial Florida assembled, in 1838, to draft Florida’s first State Constitution.
Coastal American Indians occupied our area when Spanish explorers dropped anchor inside Cape San Blas in the early 1700’s. In 1822, settlers, realizing the potential of the Apalachicola River as a commercial outlet for the rich cotton producing states, founded the town of Apalachicola. St. Joseph’s (the original name of Port St. Joe) was established shortly thereafter, in 1835, because its harbor was deeper at 17 feet. A railway from Depot Creek to St. Joseph’s Bay was opened in 1836 the first utilizing steam locomotion in Florida and one of the first three steam railroads in the United States.
By 1837, St. Joseph was flourishing as the largest city in the Territory of Florida, with a population estimated near 11,000. And, it was here that 56 delegates gathered to draw up the constitution for Florida to become a state. Port St. Joe is still called the “Constitution City.”
Soon after, a line of catastrophic events including; yellow fever, a great fire, a major hurricane and the demise of the railroad reduced the town to only a few hunters, trappers and fishermen. Re-established in 1909, the resurrected city went industrial with the opening of the paper mill in the 1938. The mill closed in 1999 and the area, once again, transformed itself this time into a tourist-friendly destination.
Hurricane Michael in 2018 had a large impact on the area but the community spirit remained strong and contributed to a successful recovery.
Cape San Blas Lighthouse
The Cape San Blas Lighthouse was built more than 130 years ago when Congress appropriated $5,000 to erect the original structure. It was designed to guide vessels around the shoals running out from the Cape using the sole beacon that could be seen for up to 10 miles offshore.
Rich with history, including an attack by Union Troops in 1862, the structure has survived a series of blows from storms, winds and high surf throughout the years. Mother Nature continued her own onslaught and Tropical Storm Isaac reclaimed the remaining shoreline forcing the lighthouse to close temporarily in 2012.
In honor of its historic and iconic presence, the City of Port St. Joe successfully moved the lighthouse to its protective shores on St. Joseph Bay to preserve and maintain the beloved structure.
On July 15, 2014, hundreds of people watched as the Lighthouse, its two Keepers’ Quarters and Oil House made its journey into Port St. Joe. The convoy, which was over 900 feet long and two lanes wide, was moved from the Gulf shores of Cape San Blas to its new location. The choreographed moving process took an entire day and required multiple power lines and a traffic light to be moved to accommodate the convoy on their safe journey. Locals and visitors alike were applauding with relief and pride as it came to its final stop in George Core Park. Hundreds gathered once again on July 24 to observe the Lighthouse as it was erected onto its new platform.
On the weekend of September 12, 2014, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the 18th Annual Florida Scallop & Music Festival, 249 climbers came out to be the first to take in the new breathtaking viewpoint of St. Joseph Bay from the top of the historic Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse Gift Shop is currently housed in the Keepers’ Quarters, located adjacent to the Welcome Center and the historic Maddox Park overlooking St. Joseph Bay. The Gift Shop houses souvenirs that honor the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, visitors can also see antiquities from the Keepers’ Quarters as well as register to climb the Lighthouse!