July 10, 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the first lighting of the Jupiter Lighthouse. This beautiful and majestic lighthouse is Palm Beach County’s oldest structure, and has withstood wars, hurricanes, and worst of all, development. Its 108 feet of brick has overseen all the changes, good and bad. As I grew up in the Jupiter-Tequesta area, the lighthouse was always my favorite monument and the guiding light home. When we visited my grandparents in Lake Worth and made our way home along U.S. 1, I would wait to see its light and know home was not far away.
On our tour today, we spent some extra time with one of the staff members who was helping set up the tables for tonight’s event and ceremonial re-lighting of the lighthouse. He told us that in recently putting in a new wall, excavations produced several old french perfume bottles, and a blue bottle for a health tonic from a Dr. Pierce (more information here). His best find was an old conch shell that he recognized as being a trumpet shell. He quickly rinsed it off with a hose and he gave it a good blow, and it produced its first tone in probably 1,000 years. Anytime a tree is planted or the ground excavated for repairs, an archealogist has to be called in to look for indian artifacts.
The lighthouse sits on a natural hill that is 46 feet high (a mountain for Florida). Surrounding the hill are several kitchen “middens” where the Native Americans buried their kitchen garbage of bone and shell refuse. The U-shaped hill is called a “parabolic dune” and was probably first settled by the English in post-Colombian times. The name “Jupiter” is a twist of many languages. The Native Americans referred to themselves as the “Hoe-Bay,” which to the Spanish sounded like “Jove”, the Spanish word for the god Jupiter, so the English translation was applied. Old maps from the 1770s mention that the area was renamed “Grenville” when the territory was ceded to the English. Some very old “tabby” building material and other British items were found in a recent excavation.
If you have an afternoon, the tour and museum is more than worth the time. The trek up the lighthouse is a 150 steps of winding staircase, so if you have vertigo or do not like heights, the climb may not be for you.