Harbour Town Lighthouse Adds New Historical Chapter with Installation of Fresnel Lens

‘Invention that saved a million ships’ now on display for visitors to The Sea Pines Resort

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (May 9, 2022) – The iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse at The Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island has added an exciting chapter to its storied history with the installation of a genuine Fresnel lens to further the power of the light that blossoms from the top. Just over five decades old, the red-and-white striped Lighthouse — featured prominently in CBS’ coverage last month of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage golf tournament — serves not only as a beacon to the many ships that reside in the Yacht Basin but also as a landmark that symbolizes the region and the resort.

Developed in the 1820s for use in lighthouses, Fresnel (pronounced “fray-NEL”) lenses are not only stunning pieces of artwork, but their functionality has led them to be called “the invention that saved a million ships.” For visitors to the Lighthouse, the 114-step trip to the observation deck now offers an additional payoff.

“The Fresnel lens is as beautiful in the day as when it’s illuminated at night,” said Rob Bender, director of recreation and marine operations for The Sea Pines Resort. “There is a great deal of history associated with this Lighthouse and this represented a great opportunity to add to it.”

Bender added the Fresnel lens’ installation is a crowning achievement for The Sea Pines Resort and keepers of the Lighthouse, property manager Mark King and keeper Nadia Wagner. “It’s a great partnership; it took a lot of patience but was well worth it,” Bender said.

Talk of bringing in a Fresnel lens was initiated nearly a decade ago but Hurricane Matthew and other factors played roles in the delay. Final approval was even needed from the United States Coast Guard, a process that took four months alone.

The new Lighthouse lens is a replica of the original Fourth Order Fresnel lens as created and designed by Dan Spinella, a Florida-based artist and engineer who began his research and restoration work on the lenses 30 years ago. To date, Spinella said 46 reproduction Fresnel lenses have been manufactured and installed in U.S. lighthouses as both aids to navigation and as exhibits in lighthouse museums, such as Harbour Town.

At the time of its design by French physicist Augustin Fresnel, the lens was hailed as a scientific wonder and revolutionized the way lighthouses illuminated the waterways of the world. With their intricate design of hundreds of prisms arranged in a beehive shape, Fresnel lenses are not only engineering marvels but also incredible works of art with a futuristic look despite dating back more than 200 years ago.

Harbour Town Lighthouse, which is open 10 a.m. to sundown for daily tours, features numerous historical exhibits as well as a gift shop. Admission is $5.75 per person; children 5 and under are free.

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