{ SC's September Calendar + Our Featured SC Events }

September 29-November 9, 2014 | South Carolina hosts 10 state and county fairs every fall, and they are the highlights of the season! Use our guide to learn location and dates for each – plus find links to each fair's website. Don't forget to check out our entire SC September calendar of events too!

{ SC Maritime Museum Unveils Original Fresnel Lens }

The South Carolina Maritime Museum shares our state's rich and remarkable maritime history. Located on Georgetown's waterfront, the museum features old photographs and paintings, sketches, documents, models, artifacts, and interactive exhibits that both entertain and inform. In this photo, board member Robert "Mac" McAlister stands proudly before several of the museum's displays.

(South Carolina Maritime Museum © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The museum also recently acquired the prized Fresnel (pronounced "fray-nell") lens that once illuminated the old Georgetown Lighthouse – the oldest continually-operating lighthouse in South Carolina, and one of only two public lights that remain active in our state today. In the article below Becky Billingsley, longtime friend to both SCIWAY and the museum, explores the history of the old lens and explains why we all might want to head to Georgetown for a look of our own!

{ Historic Lighthouse Lens Returns to Georgetown }

Its beauty belies the purpose of the lighthouse lens, which was critical for survival and for the local economy. In these days of sonar and radar and Doppler, it's hard to believe that for more than a century such a fragile creation guided seafarers safely into port.

(Charles Slate of The Sun News © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The Georgetown Lighthouse, located 14 miles from the port city on North Island, is the oldest operating lighthouse in South Carolina, and one of the oldest in the United States. During the Civil War, the circa 1811 brick conical structure was heavily damaged. Its reconstruction in 1867 included extending the lighthouse to 87 feet and installing a 5th order (1st order is the largest of 11 orders) Fresnel lens.

(Phil Wilkinson of Georgetown © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

Sautter, Lemonnier and Cie in Paris manufactured the lens, which was invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in 1822. "It's a series of clear glass prisms above and below the light source, which captures as much as 80 percent of the light source and beams it out to sea," says Robert "Mac" McAlister, a historian and author who was instrumental in getting the lens returned to Georgetown. "The more prisms there are, the more light." The light was fixed (versus rotating), and its concentrated flashes could be seen up to 15 miles away.

(Lighthouse Friends © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

Whale oil, then kerosene kept the light burning inside the lens until it was electrified. Lighthouse keepers who lived on the sparsely inhabited island kept its bristled edges clean and unbroken until 1968, when the U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse's operation. In 1986 it was automated, and in 1999, after 132 years of service, the Georgetown Lighthouse Fresnel lens was removed and retired from use.

(Dan Christie of Akron, OH © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The lens was displayed at a USCG facility in Miami, Florida, but after the SC Maritime Museum was established in 2011, its members began the process of seeking the len's return to Georgetown. On July 31, 2014, a reception was held to welcome the lens into the museum's collection on a 10-year loan from the Coast Guard. It's handsomely displayed inside a replica of the top of the Georgetown Lighthouse, where its welcoming warm light still beckons visitors.

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