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It took about half an hour for the small fiberglass tour boat to make it from the oyster-encrusted dock at Cedar Key to the small island known as Seahorse Key.
About a dozen passengers, clad in windbreakers and lap blankets, sat quietly, bobbing in unison with the gray waves of low tide. An osprey, clutching a fish in its talons, watched the boat from the channel marker it was using as a perch.
"If y'all close up them windows, it'll get warmer quicker," said the man piloting the small open craft, laughing. The passengers giggled, cozying up to their loved ones to help stifle the wind.
Soon, as the island they were bound for came in to view, a structure, a 162-year-old beacon on the gulf, cylindrical and faceted with glass, broke above the tree line on Seahorse Key.
"Oh, there it is," a passenger said with enthusiasm, "the lighthouse."
About 100 people, arriving on tour boats every 30 minutes, visited the Cedar Key Light Station on Seahorse Key Saturday for a special Christmas open house tour.
The event was a collaboration between the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, the Cedar Keys Historical Society and the Levy County Historical Society.
Visitors, upon arrival, were greeted by volunteers in period clothing who gave a brief history of the island and the light station. Refreshments were served in one of the research buildings used for the University of Florida's marine science program.
As visitors made their way up the steep incline that leads toward the light station, they were met by area historian and author Toni Collins, dressed and in character as the station's only ever female light keeper, Catharine Hobday.
Collins, along with area historians John Lodhe, George Stresovich and Ken Young—also all in character— took visitors on a tour of the light station and the island's small cemetery. She talked about the lives of the people, sailors and light station keepers, buried on the small plot nestled within the thick cover of oaks and palm trees, a plot where the real Catharine Hobday's body still rests.
"I would think this would have been a wonderful duty station," Collins said later, addressing a small crowd while sitting on the front porch of the light station. "But it had to have been lonely."
Later, Collins said she was happy with the day's turnout. The light station is only open a few times a year to the public, she explained. But that needs to change, she said. People, locals especially, need to become more familiar with Cedar Key's history. Events like Saturday's, which gave volunteers an excuse to decorate the light station in a Christmas theme, are a good way to do that.
Larry Goodin, of Aster, said he agrees. He said he visits Cedar Key often for its festivals, but admitted that Saturday was the first time he'd made it to the light station. He said he enjoyed learning about the history of the island and the station it harbors.
"It was pretty neat," he said smiling. "learning what the original building was and how it had been added on to. It's sad that it's no longer functional."