In the coming years, the only publicly accessible lighthouse of its kind in South Carolina will be taken apart and put back together to allow for repairs needed to maintain its watch over the ocean off Beaufort County.
The lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park was built 160 years ago and rebuilt after being destroyed in the Civil War. Park visitors can pay a fee and climb the 167 steps of the spiral cast-iron staircase to sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean at the top.
Engineers assessed the integrity of the brick and cast iron structure last year. They documented cracks and corrosion and analyzed how much weight the historic staircase could safely hold.
In response to recommendations in the report by Bennett Preservation Engineering in Charleston, the state plans to repair the historic facility, estimating the project could cost $3 million. The work involves taking the lighthouse apart, making necessary repairs and reassembling the structure, said Dawn Dawson-House, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
She described the needed restoration as being due to “standard wear and tear.”
The state will hire a specialized architectural firm to draw plans for securing the staircase, rails and lantern room.
Until the work is done, only six visitors are allowed in the lighthouse at a time.
The agency will seek money for the work during the 2020-21 fiscal year, Dawson-House said, meaning completed repairs are more than a year away.
The structure was first built in 1859 and is made of cast-iron sections so that it can be disassembled and moved if necessary. Under the threat of severe erosion in 1889, the lighthouse was moved 1.3 miles inland.
Starting in 2003, the lighthouse closed for 18 months to repair cracks in the steps and install steel braces along the staircase.
Restoring the lighthouse is one of numerous projects planned for Hunting Island after Hurricane Matthew devastated the park in 2016.
“PRT takes Hunting Island seriously,” Dawson-House said. “We know for northern Beaufort County, it’s the primary beach access.”
In addition to work to secure the lighthouse, the state is prepared to pour millions into other areas of Hunting Island, agency director Duane Parrish said in a recent letter to state Rep. Shannon Erickson.
A long-awaited beach restoration project that could cost $11 million is expected to begin in November. State officials plan to pump 1.2 million cubic yards of sand onto the island’s beaches to replenish an area heavily eroded during storms in recent years and to protect the nearby lighthouse.
The permit would also allow the construction of a new groin — a hard structure extending into the ocean to trap and build up sand — with the option for a second. Work is still awaiting approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Among the other planned projects, according to Parrish:
- Additional cabins are planned to help boost revenue at the park, at an expected cost of $8 million. Planning, permitting and design work is expected to begin during the next fiscal year. The one cabin on the island is booked all year and shows the demand for more rentals, Parrish said.
- The state parks agency expects to spend $2 million repaving roads on the island. Federal emergency funds received by the state after Hurricane Matthew could offset $600,000 of the cost.
- A new fishing pier extending between Hunting and Fripp islands will replace one partially destroyed by Hurricane Matthew. The pier is being designed and will cost an estimated $500,000.