Education · Kate's Corner · Keepers · News

KATE’S CORNER #7

Kate Walker here. I kept the light on Robbins Reef in New York Harbor from 1890 to 1919. That’s a lot of years, isn’t it? And don’t forget that the light had to be kept seven days a week, 365 days a year. There were no days off unless you had an assistant keeper or a substitute you could trust to put a lamp in the tower at sunset, replace it when needed during the night, and extinguish it at sunrise. That substitute was often a wife or a child of the keeper. My son Jacob served as my assistant.

williams copy
Elizabeth Williams kept two lights on Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of Beaver Island Historical Society.

I’m not the only woman to have stayed at my post for a record number of years. Josephine Freeman kept the Blackistone Island Light Station in Maryland on the Potomac River from 1876 until 1912. Harriet Colfax was at the Michigan City Light in Indiana from 1861 until 1904. Ida Lewis was at Lime Rock (later named Ida Lewis Rock) in Rhode Island from 1857 until 1911. Julia Williams kept the Santa Barbara Light in California from 1865 until 1905. Catherine Murdock was at Roundout Creek on the Hudson River in New York from 1857 until 1907. Maria Youngans was at Biloxi Light in Mississippi from 1867 until 1918. Elizabeth Williams was at Beaver Island Harbor Point Light Station from 1872 to 1884 and at Little Traverse Light Station, Michigan, from 1884 to 1913.

Which one of us should get the prize for the longest tenure at a light station?

Was any male keeper at his station longer than these women were? I know about the following men who served many years:

Sedgwick Springs at Bald Head, NC, 1807 – 1837
William Gilley at Bakers Island, ME, 1828 – 1849
Leander White at Cape Elizabeth, ME, 1888 – 1909
Miles Burnham at Cape Canaveral, FL, 1861 – 1885
Enoch Ellis Howard at Ocracoke, NC, 1862 – 1897
William W. Williams at Boon Island, ME, 1885 – 1911
Clinton P. Honeywell at Cape Canaveral, FL, 1891 – 1930
Willis Dolliver at Bass Harbor Head, ME, 1894 – 1921
Peter Rasmusson at St. Augustine, FL, 1901 – 1924
Henry L. Dow at New Point Comfort, VA, 1919 – 1954

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresAre there others I should know about? [Please reply to this post in order for your keeper to show up in the comments]

Sources: Dates for female keepers are from Women Who Kept the Lights. Dates for male keepers from <www.lighthousefriends.com>.

Submitted August 15, 2017

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5 thoughts on “KATE’S CORNER #7

  1. If you are looking for material on female lighthouse keepers, the Cedar Keys Light Station had an assistant lighthouse keeper who was appointed one month shy of her 76th birthday by Ulysses S. Grant. She served for 6 years, died on duty, and is buried on Seahorse Key. I would be happy to forward a biography on Catharine Hobday for your consideration.

    Toni C. Collins

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  2. Our keeper, Andrew Shaw, was at the Presque Isle Light Station for 26 years, from 1901 to 1927. He retired when the road was built on the peninsula and allowed visitors to make it all the way to the lighthouse with an “easy” ride in a car. Before the road made it’s way to the lighthouse, the only way to get to the lighthouse involved a 2-way boat ride from the city of Erie Pa, then a 2-way walk on the 1.5 mile Sidewalk Trail. During some years, journal entries reflected only 2 visits a year, probably Lighthouse Inspectors. So when the road brought daily visitors, Keeper Shaw was not pleased and quit abruptly, stating that there were “too blasted many people.”

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  3. Fun post, Kate. There are actually quite a few keepers that we have published photos and stories about very recently in Lighthouse Digest Magazine that had long tenures at their lights. In our last issue, we profiled Andrew Rattray, St. Clair Flats Upper Lighthouse, MI who served 36 years from 1883 – 1919. August Lorenz at Colchester Reef Lighthouse, VT was in our 25th Anniversary issue in May. He served 22 years from 1908 – 1930. We’ve written up James Langlois, who was the longest serving keeper at any single light on the Pacific Coast, at Cape Blanco Lighthouse in Oregon for almost 43 years from 1876 – 1918. His assistant, James Hughes served 38 years there from 1888 to 1926. Last summer, we placed a memorial lighthouse service marker on the grave of Ephraim Johnson, who served at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Maine for 29 years from 1901-1930. In our upcoming issue we have an article about Orrin Milan, keeper at Burnt Coat Harbor Light in Maine for 35 years from 1897 – 1932, who just received his memorial marker in a recent ceremony this summer organized by the Friends of Swan Island Lighthouse. We hope in a future issue to profile Laura Hecox, keeper of Santa Cruz light in CA for 33 years from 1883 to 1916. There are many, many more. All of them deserve our thanks and recognition. We hope to continue to rediscover their histories, publish their photos and honor their many years of service and dedication. Thanks for posting all these names to bring them to light once more!

    Debra Baldwin
    Historian, Lighthouse Digest Magazine

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  4. I’d like to add Antonio J. Silva, who served 27 years at the San Luis Obispo, Calif. Light Station, from 1906 until his retirement in 1933. He started as a second assistant there, but was quickly promoted to 1st assistant. He told the daughter of one of the head Keepers he served under that he did not want to be a head Keeper, but was content to stay 1st assistant. When he retired, he and his wife moved to San Jose, Calif., but the couple returned to San Luis Obispo in 1949, where he celebrated his golden wedding anniversary in 1950. He passed away in 1953.

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