The Tampa Lighthouse That's Still Standing A Century After The 1921 Hurricane

In September, 2022, Tampa Bay braced for Hurricane Ian, anticipated to be the worst storm of its kind to make landfall in south Florida in more than a century, as The New York Times reports. Storm surges of 18 feet were expected in some areas as thousands of local residents evacuated, according to CNN. Prior to Ian, the last massive storm to affect Tampa Bay came in 1921, a storm now called the Tampa/Tarpon Springs Hurricane. (Scientists began naming hurricanes as they do today in the 1950s, per the National Hurricane Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association website.)

The Tampa/Tarpon Springs Hurricane battered the Tampa area with 120-mph winds and sea swells of 11 feet. The storm flooded downtown Tampa and killed at least eight people (via The New York Times). At the heart of the  1921 Tampa storm, though, was the Egmont Key Lighthouse (pictured), rebuilt after the last major south Florida storm prior to 1921 which struck in 1848, according to the Tampa Bay Soundings website.

The first Egmont Key Lighthouse was rebuilt after the 1848 hurricane

The Egmont Key Lighthouse was built in 1848, a matter of months before the storm now known as "the great gale of 1848" hit the area, as NOAA notes. A man named Sherrod Edwards was light keeper at that time, and the Egmont Key Lighthouse stood on an island at the entryway of Tampa Bay, the only lighthouse between the panhandle and Key West (via Tampa Bay Soundings). When the "great gale" came, it's believed Edwards rode out the storm in a rowboat tied  to a Palm Tree.

The original Egmont Key structure, built at a cost of $10,000 or a bit less than $400,000 today, did not fare so well, though (per Official Data). In the "great gale" the Egmont Key Lighthouse was damaged beyond repair and the lighthouse as it stands today was rebuilt in 1858 for a cost of $16,000 or $624,000 in today's money. Other nearby structures on the site were later added or torn down (via Official Data). 

The Egmont Key Lighthouse was built to withstand any storm

As the Tampa Bay Soundings website notes, in 1858, the Egmont Key Lighthouse was rebuilt to withstand any storm in 1858 after the first lighthouse succumbed to the "great gale" 10 years earlier. As it emerged still standing after the 1921 Tampa/Tarpon Springs Hurricane, that goal seemed to be accomplished. When category 5 Hurricane Ian made landfall in the Tampa Bay area in September, 2022, it brought with it 150 mph winds, according to CNN

Referring to the 1921 "great gale," National Weather Service meteorologist in Tampa, Austen Flannery said (via The New York Times), "Obviously there was a lot of significant impacts from flooding and storm surge, and it showed how vulnerable the region is ... [T]hat does certainly drive a lot of the planning for today, in terms of how to better prepare." As of this report it was unclear if the lighthouse sustained any damage, but if history is any precedent, the Egmont Key Lighthouse will have withstood three of the most serious hurricanes in Tampa history.