A picturesque beacon looms over the soft white beach at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. The top of the lighthouse rewards anyone willing to trek up its 109 steps with breathtakingly beautiful views of the park. From this high vantage point, you get uninterrupted vistas of blue-green waves gently lapping against the milky sand.
The lighthouse is as historically fascinating as it is beautiful. It’s the oldest standing structure in all of Miami-Dade County. Though first built in 1825, it was reconstructed in 1846 after suffering extensive damage during the Second Seminole War. After being decommissioned and serving a stint as the headquarters of the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, it was later restored and a small museum was created that’s stuffed with information about the local history.
But the beacon isn’t the only historical treasure the park holds. A modest sign stands within a tangle of greenery honoring the site’s role in the National Underground Railroad to Freedom.
When Spain ceded Florida to the United States in the 1820s, hundreds of Black Seminoles, many who had fled slavery further north, escaped from this southeastern sliver of shore and set sail for freedom in the Bahamas. Some bargained with Bahamian wreckers (sailors who purposely lured ships to shallow seas where they would wreck and could be plundered) to secure passage aboard their vessels. Others boarded makeshift canoes and sloops in the dark of night and began the treacherous journey to freedom.
Unfortunately, the construction of the lighthouse is the very thing that brought an end to these clandestine escapes. Its bright light illuminated the beach and surrounding waters during even the darkest hours, making it nearly impossible for anyone to sail away unnoticed.