Originally, a lighthouse was proposed as far back as 1854, but the price of the land was too high. Two lighthouses were eventually built on Hilton Head Island in 1863. The rear light was blown down in 1869.
Just 4 years later, in 1874, erection of range lights was recommended again and on July 31, 1876, Congress authorized the expenditure of $40,000 for range lights on Hilton Head and Bay Point to guide vessels into Port Royal Sound.
After a lengthy squabble over land rights, contracts for the work were finally made in 1877 with a completion date of June 1, 1879. The contractor for the front light, approximately 35 feet high when completed, and the dwellings for both the front and rear light failed to start the work, resulting in the contract being turned over to his bondsmen and the deadline being extended to May 1, 1880. Both lights and dwellings were completed in June 1880, but the Lighthouse Board decided to delay activation of the lights until August 1, 1881, when the range lights on nearby Parris Island would be complete.
In 1844, a roadway 1 1/4 miles long, consisting of combined plank walk and earth-work, was built between the two lighthouses.
As originally constructed, the rear range lighthouse is a skeleton structure made up of a series of five iron columns, braced and tied together by means of beams and tie-bars, together forming the outline of a regular hexagonal pyramid with a central cylinder enclosing the axis of the pyramid. The first series of columns are fitted into foundation discs, which rest on a concrete foundation 6 feet in thickness and are bolted down to the same. On the top is built an enclosed Watch Room and lantern.
The lantern and Watch Room at the top were originally built of cypress wood. The range light was originally fixed red. In 1893, the original Hains Oil lamps were replaced with Funck-Heap lamps. The Lantern Room is above the Watch Room, and housed a Fresnel Lens.
John Doyle, an employee of Cooper Manufacturing, traveled to Parris Island to direct the construction of the Parris Island lighthouse and later the construction of the range light on Daufuskie Island, just a few miles south of Parris Island. Here you can read in his diary of that time, on April 5th where he met Robert Sisson, the Hilton Head Head Lighthouse keeper of both 1879 – 1890.
1877 Schematics of columns, foundation, door frame and entrance steps
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Click to view larger.