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Lighthouse may be part of park plan
Monday, August 22, 1994  —  Charleston Post and Courier

The Morris Island Lighthouse off Folly Beach, among the most historic along the East Coast, could become part of the Charleston County park system.

It's an idea that's occurred to county park commissioners, but they point out that the commission has not made any move other than to contact the owner, St. Elmo Felkel - who has battled governments before.

Nor does the park commission have money to buy the lighthouse, Commission Director Tim Eubanks said.

But some commission members support the idea.

"There's a lot of interest out there to save the lighthouse. If we just let if fall to the ground, our great-grandchildren might not be able to see a lighthouse because lighthouses are becoming a scarce breed up and down the coast", said commission member Eddie Taylor.

Taylor and other members of the commission said they could tie the purchase of the lighthouse to their plans of obtaining the former Coast Guard station at the end of Folly Beach this fall.

The lighthouse is stranded in the ocean, a victim of the fierce erosion of Morris Island. One commission member suggested a boardwalk be built from Folly Beach to the lighthouse, but Taylor thought a boat dock at the lighthouse more appropriate.

No structural tests have been done on the lighthouse, which was built in 1876, but it has begun to lean, Taylor said.

"My personal feeling is that it would make a nice tourist facility", he said.

Commission member Betty Wannamaker also favors obtaining the lighthouse. "It's a treasure and I prefer that we investigate taking it", she said.

Commission member Harry Shaw said he hoped Felkel would donate the lighthouse, and joined other commissioners in worrying about the cost of obtaining, restoring and opening the lighthouse to the public.

That's not even considering the safety and liability questions that would have to be addressed, Shaw said.

Felkel, meanwhile, said he's interested in the commission's interest, "but how much they're willing to offer is the question".

Felkel, a Goose Creek real estate developer, bought the lighthouse for $25,000 in 1966. The Coast Guard had abandoned the structure in the 1960s as surplus government property and Felkel bought it from the first private owner.

"Everything in Charleston is more valuable than it was 28 years ago, so I would think that it's quite a bit more valuable now", he said.

Felkel said the lighthouse has a 4-foot-thick brick base, is structurally sound, and not in any danger of collapsing. Even so, he agreed that money - which he said he doesn't have - needs to be spent to restore the structure.

The lighthouse is not the only landmark Felkel has owned. Six years ago, Felkel fought the city of Charleston's plans to purchase the centuries-old Angel Oak on John's Island. The city later condemned the property on which the tree sits and opened it to the public.

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