Although colonists settled Savannah as early as the 1700s, Tybee Island remains even today a quiet community, its weather limiting development and encouraging preservation over the years.
The name Tybee is thought to be derived from an Indian word meaning "salt meadow." Centuries ago, Tybee Island was part of the Gaulle kingdom of Indians; this group lived on the seven large barrier islands stretching from Cumberland Island to Tybee. Years later, Yamacraw Indian families settled the island and lived by harvesting oysters, collecting salt and fishing.
The Tybee lighthouse is the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia. In 1773, engineers erected a 100-foot Daymark tower to aid ship traffic along the eastern seaboard and Savannah River. During the Civil War, Confederate troops destroyed the upper levels of this tower to hinder Union advances.
The present lighthouse, built in 1867, sits on top of the 1773 foundation. It is 154 feet tall and constructed of brick and metal. In 1933, lighthouse keepers converted the beam from oil to electricity, using a single bulb of 1,000 watts. Ship captains can follow light from the 10-foot Fresnel lens as far as 18 miles out at sea.