Tybee Island (part 1)

Tybee Island is a barrier island about 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia, and can be reached from that city in about a 20-minute drive. The pace there is slower, and the island seems  geared more towards relaxation than a full agenda of activities.  The beach, of course, is the main attraction.  The pier, on the southern end of the island, offers a place to fish, go for a walk, and get some ice cream.

Highway 80 offers many choices for good food, but I loved the low country boil at The Crab Shack, a restaurant with a separate visitor’s area with parrots and macaws and an alligator pond.  (Seriously).  The food is amazing, and one platter will feed approximately 2 to 3 people.

The Crab Shack

When my family and I visited Tybee, we stayed in Savannah and commuted to the island, simply because Savannah offered us a nice city to walk around as well as cheaper lodgings.  Tybee offers plenty of hotels, vacation rentals, and AirBnBs.  

We headed to the northern end of the island, which tends to be less crowded.  We saw a pod of dolphins swimming offshore, and we climbed the lighthouse. There are 178 steps to the top, and there are landings every 25 steps or so, if you need to stop and catch your breath.  Be warned, those of you who (like me) have a fear of heights: you can go outside once you reach the top, but that railing is all that stands between you and the open air.  I found myself hugging the wall more than once.  

Tybee Lighthouse, est. 1736

The current lighthouse is the fourth tower at this station, though neither of its first two predecessors were lit. The first tower was built at the direction of James Oglethorpe and was constructed of wood; erected in 1736, it was felled by a storm in 1741 The following year a replacement was erected, this time of stone and wood, but still without illumination; instead, it was topped with a flag pole. This tower succumbed to shoreline erosion.

In 1999 a major restoration project was begun under the auspices of the Tybee Island Historical Society, who took possession of the light station in 2002 under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. As part of this project the tower was repainted in the 1916-1966 black-white-black daymark. The beacon is still a functioning navigational aid, still using its original lens. The site is open to the public and retains its keepers houses and auxiliary buildings as well as the lighthouse tower.  

The lighthouse uses a Fresnel lens from 1857.  A Fresnel lens is a type of compact lens originally developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses.  The design allows the construction of lenses of large aperture and short focal length without the mass and volume of material that would be required by a lens of conventional design. A Fresnel lens can be made much thinner than a comparable conventional lens, in some cases taking the form of a flat sheet. A Fresnel lens can capture more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing the light from a lighthouse equipped with one to be visible over greater distances. 

Tybee lighthouse – Fresnel lens, from 1857
Tybee Island Light Station

There’s more to see than just the lighthouse.  Tybee Island Light Station is a complete light station whose history dates back to 1736. The tower stands 145 feet tall and has three Light Keeper’s Cottages nearby. A small 1812 Summer Kitchen holds archaeological finds. Across the street is an 1899 Military Battery that houses the Tybee Island Museum. Exhibits cover the time of the Euchee tribe, the history of Fort Screven, Tybee’s Golden Era and more. A yellow raised cottage adjacent to the property showcases 1900s Tybee architecture.