“I’d have been really curious if I had seen the arrow,” he said.
Today, little remains except a piece of the wall and concrete chunks where 80 years ago stood a key to the most envied transportation system in the world — an airway beacon station. The Bennetts Point peninsula held one of 1,500 sets of light towers and directional arrows that were placed across the country every 15 to 20 miles to guide mail and commercial fights. It is one of a few sites in the Lowcountry that are still known by coordinates, but have been lost.
Very few of the stations or arrows remain intact, mostly in the desert West.
In their day they were the deal. Each station could be spotted from the air as a 70-foot-long concrete arrow, according to the Washington County (Utah) Historical Society. At the center of each arrow stood a 50-foot tower topped by a million-candle-power rotating beacon.
The stations marked the end of what the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission called “the swashbuckling days of airmail operations,” when lone pilots in open cockpits eyeballed their way through snow, rain, heat and the gloom of night to deliver cross-country.
The 1920s-30s beacon era became the beginning of aeronautic navigation. In fact, no sooner than the beacons were placed, radio navigation began guiding pilots. By the 1940s the stations were decommissioned.
The Bennetts Point marker, though, performed one more service. During World War II, Beaufort Naval Air Station pilots used its marker to guide them to practice strafing runs on nearby Otter Island.
The towers were torn down for steel during the war. Site after site disappeared as properties were turned over and developed.
Today, the history isn’t much regarded unless somebody stumbles across a giant arrow and a photo circulates on social media, as one did recently.
By the time Ellis moved a camper onto the Bennetts Point site, only the slight, man-made berm on the grounds hinted that something had been there. When he poked through the brush to find the wall and mounts, they were just a puzzle.
“I looked it over really well, trying to figure out what it was all about,” he said.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.
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