Improvements & A New Life
To accommodate the Lighthouse keepers and their families, a new structure was built on the grounds. The Keeper’s Quarters was completed in 1887 and was able to house up to two families. The Quarters offered its tenants 19th century luxuries, and also allowed for the keepers’ families to live, work, and play amongst Key West’s inhabitants.
Expanding the Lighthouse’s Reach
Key West’s urbanization during the later 19th century proved problematic for mariners. The increasing height of the island’s structures and vegetation blocked the tower’s light.
In 1894, Congress allocated maintenance funds including money to increase the height of the tower. When construction ended in the following year, the tower stood at a full 40’ taller, and sailors could see its unobstructed light far out at sea.
A New Era
By the early 20th century the Key West Lighthouse was electrified, which meant that a full-time keeper was no longer necessary. By the 1960s, the increased use of radar and sonar made the lighthouse obsolete.
In 1966, the Key West Art & Historical Society took over operation of the Keeper’s Quarters, converting the structure into a military museum. The Coast Guard eventually decommissioned the Key West Lighthouse in 1969. In December of that year, the 83-year-old Jennie Bethel deBoer, daughter of former keepers William and Mary Bethel, officially turned off Key West’s light.
A New Life for the Lighthouse
In the 1980s, the Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters underwent a three-year restoration process. Key West Art & Historical Society replaced the military museum with exhibitions telling the story of the Keepers who kept the light burning. The clapboard bungalow that housed the keepers and their families was recreated to mirror the turn-of-the-century lifestyle complete with historic furniture, artifacts, and photographs of the culture and history of early Key West.