Education · Kate's Corner · News

KATE’S CORNER #22

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef on the edge of New York Harbor.

Every morsel of food we ate had to be brought by boat from Staten Island. The perfect lighthouse would have a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, a flock of chickens, a cow to supply milk, maybe even a horse to get around on. These would provide much of the food a keeper’s family ate, but would also add many tasks to the keeper family’s daily life: planting, tending, and harvesting the vegetables and fruit; collecting eggs every day; milking the cow every morning and in the evening; feeding the animals.

Fannie Salter had the perfect lighthouse at Turkey Point at the head of Chesapeake Bay. In December 1861 the District Engineer built “250 yards of new fencing at Turkey Point light station” to keep cattle from invading the lighthouse garden. This protected about four acres of ground.

Turkey Point MD Fannie Salter and son USCGHO
Fannie Salter and her son feed turkeys on the lawn of Turkey Point Light Station at the head of Chesapeake Bay. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

How big was Fannie Salter’s four acres? As big as a football field? Or a soccer field? Or a baseball field? Or an average city block?

Black Rock CT NA 26-LG-11-3 (1)
Black Rock Harbor Light Station off Bridgeport, Connecticut, around 1880. Kate Moore assisted her father there from 1817 to 1871, then acted as official keeper from 1871 until 1878. The 1823 tower still stands. Courtesy of the National Archives, #26-LG-11-3

Black Rock Harbor Light Station on the north shore of Long Island Sound was on Fayerweather Island, shrunk by erosion to three scraggly acres of tall grasses and ailanthus trees, planted by Kathleen A. Moore. Kate assisted her invalid father in keeping the light. She said, “I never had time to get lonely. I had a lot of poultry and two cows to care for, and each year raised 20 sheep, doing the shearing myself—and the killing when necessary. You see, in the winter you couldn’t get to land on account of the ice being too thin, or the water too rough. Then in the summer I had my garden to make and keep. I raised all my own stuff, and as we had to depend on rain for water, quite a bit of time was consumed looking after that. We tried a number of times to dig for water, but always struck salt.”

Kate carved duck decoys, selling them to visitors as souvenirs or to sportsmen who hunted. She also planted, gathered, and seeded oyster beds in Long Island Sound. She tended the Black Rock Harbor Light until she was 83 years old, then bought a retirement home with her savings and lived to age 105.

Was hers a perfect lighthouse?

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation from National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 3 (NC-63), Volume 354; and from the New York Sunday World in 1889 and the Bridgeport Standard, March 28, 1878.

Submitted May 29, 2018

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