The original St. Augustine Lighthouse was built of coquina around the 1730s, and collapsed into the sea just three years after the present-day tower was completed in 1874. It was here that Minorcan resident Maria Andreu served as Lighthouse Keeper after her husband, the former Keeper, died in 1859.
There was a great article in the St. Augustine Record today, that also ran in Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union, about the woman who served as a Lighthouse Keeper and it happened right here, in St. Augustine. Not surprisingly given St. Augustine’s diverse heritage, this pioneer was the first Hispanic woman to serve in this post, and is also considered the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard (though at the time, the agency managing Lighthouses was known as the U.S. Lighthouse Service). She and her husband came from the island of Minorca and worked on the Turnbull plantation at New Smyrna. The Minorcans collectively escaped from the plantation and came to resettle in St. Augustine during the British Period.
From the St. Augustine Record:
Maria Mestre de los Dolores Andreu stands out both in the annals of the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal government.
In 1859 she assumed the watch as the lighthouse keeper at St. Augustine Lighthouse after her husband, Juan, died. Maria Andreu thus became not only the first Hispanic-American woman to serve in the Coast Guard but also the first to command a federal shore installation, say officials.
Her appointment came after her husband died on the job. According to a report in the St. Augustine Examiner on Dec. 10, 1859, “Monday last … (Joseph Andreu) was engaged in white washing the tower of the Light House” when the scaffolding gave way and he fell 60 feet. He died almost instantly.
Its a really great article, one of the best I’ve seen on the Lighthouse, so go read the entire thing here.