Education · Kate's Corner · Lighthouse Construction · News

KATE’S CORNER # 15

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

In an earlier post I talked about single-keeper, “family” light stations which marked sounds, bays, rivers, and harbors. Tall towers, above 150 in height, were the extreme opposite. They stood on flat land on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts where offshore shoals, dangerous currents, or rocky ledges required the light to be seen 14 to 16 nautical miles. They were lit by huge first-order Fresnel lenses. Tall towers stood alone, separate from the keepers’ dwelling. Some tall towers had two assistant keepers, some three to maintain the watch schedule.

absecon pc
The earliest tall tower to be completed appears to be Absecon, New Jersey. Constructed under the supervision of District Lighthouse Engineer George Meade, the 1857 Annual Report remarked, “It is a fact worthy of remark that on this part of the coast of hitherto frequent and appalling shipwrecks, since the exhibition of this light, a period of about ten months, there have been no wrecks in its vicinity.” Postcard from the U.S. Lighthouse Society collection.

As a woman I never would have been appointed to serve as principal keeper of a tall tower.

The light in a tall tower was watched throughout the night to be sure the lamp kept burning properly. A watchroom built below the lantern permitted the keeper to stay there during his watch rather than repeatedly climbing stairs during the night.

These are the nation’s tall towers ranging from 192 to 150 feet in height:

  • Cape Hatteras Light, North Carolina, erected 1870
  • Cape Charles Light, Cape Charles, Virginia, erected 1864 and 1894
  • Ponce de Leon Inlet Light, Florida, erected 1887
  • Barnegat Light, New Jersey, erected 1859
  • Cape Lookout Light, North Carolina, erected 1859
  • Absecon Light, New Jersey, erected 1857
  • Fire Island Light, New York, erected 1858
  • St. Augustine Light, Florida, erected 1874
  • Cape Henry Light, Virginia, erected 1881
  • Navassa Island Light, Navassa Island (an uninhabited Caribbean island located in the Jamaica Channel), erected 1917
  • Morris Island Light, South Carolina, erected 1876
  • Currituck Beach Light, North Carolina, erected 1875
  • Bodie Island Light, North Carolina, erected 1872
  • Cape May Light, New Jersey, erected 1859
  • Dry Tortugas Light, Florida, erected 1858
  • Tybee Island Lighthouse, Georgia, erected 1867
  • Cape Canaveral Light, Florida, erected 1868
  • Pensacola Light, Florida, erected 1859
  • Cape Romain Lighthouse, South Carolina, erected 1858
Cape Romain SC both towers NA 26-LG-71-73-ac copy
At 150 feet, the second tower at Cape Romain, South Carolina, was significantly taller than the tower it replaced. National Archives photo # 26-LG-71-73.

Sandy Hook, where John was assistant keeper, was 103 feet tall—a secondary coastal light with a third-order Fresnel lens, visible 10.8 nautical miles. I would like to have visited one of the tall towers and climbed its stairway to the top to see the huge first-order lens. Imagine the view!

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation is from Clifford, Nineteenth Century Lights; <lighthousefriends.com>; and the 1883 Light List.

Submitted November 23, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

 

Education · Kate's Corner · News

KATE’S CORNER #14

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

You’ve recently had the excitement of a total eclipse of the sun. My son Jacob, who succeeded me as keeper when I retired in 1919, and I both watched a partial eclipse on January 24, 1925. The path of totality was about 85 miles wide at the beginning and traversed the west end of Lake Superior, the northern portion of Lake Michigan, and the southern part of Lake Huron. The eclipse began at sunrise along a line slightly east of Detroit, Michigan. In those localities the sun rose eclipsed.

Split Rock MN 1918 NA 26-LG-53-38-ac copy (2)
Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior in Minnesota was the first American lighthouse to be darkened by the 1925 eclipse. National Archives image 26-LG-53-38 dated 1918.

The path of totality continued eastward early after sunrise and was central over Buffalo, New York, with a total duration of nearly two minutes. New York City was on the southern edge of the path, which was then about 100 miles wide, and the middle of the eclipse occurred in New York at about 9:11 a.m. East of New York the path of totality widened so that all of Long Island Sound and all of the island itself except the extreme southern corner, fell within the total path, which was central over New Haven, Connecticut, about 9:13 a.m. Nantucket Lightship fell almost at the center of the total phase, which had a duration there of over two minutes at about 9:17 a.m.

Nantucket LV 106 1930 May CG Historians Office copy
Nantucket Lightship which the 1925 total eclipse reached at 9:17 a.m. 1930 photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Various stars and planets were recognized in the vicinity of the eclipsed sun during the time of total darkness. The nearest was the third magnitude star Dabih, in the constellation of Capricorn, slightly southwest of the sun. The planets Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter were visible west of the sun, and the bright stars Altair and Vega were seen at some distance to the southwest.

The entire eclipse lasted between two and two-and-a-half hours. We used smoked glasses to protect our eyes.

Were any stars seen during the 2017 eclipse?

In the Second and Third Lighthouse Districts, with headquarters at Boston, Massachusetts, and Staten Island, New York, respectively, the keepers of 19 lighthouses and the masters of six lightships and one lighthouse tender submitted data on the January 24, 1925, eclipse, for transmission to the Hydrographic Office, Navy Department.

How would the visual observations submitted in 1925 have differed from the data collected in 2017?

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation is from Lighthouse Service Bulletin, Vol. III, No 13, pp 59-60, January 2, 1925, and No. 15, p. 68, March 2, 1925.

Submitted November 11, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

Education · Kate's Corner · Keepers · News

KATE’S CORNER #13

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

Wives and children of keepers generally assisted in tending the light so that the keeper could hunt or fish, fetch supplies from the nearest town, or perhaps supplement his meager salary by acting as a pilot or keeping a post office. Families provided free labor for the lighthouse service, which allowed small stations on enclosed bodies of water—the Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, Lake Champlain, the Great Lakes, Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana—to be attended by only one keeper. These were called “family stations.”

The first woman who received an official light keeper’s appointment on the Chesapeake Bay was Ann Davis. Her husband James was the first keeper of Point Lookout Light Station at the Potomac River entrance in Maryland. Appointed in 1830, he died just a few months later. His wife replaced him at a salary of $350 per year, and kept the light until 1847.

Point Lookout 1928
Point Lookout Lighthouse on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland in 1928. The second story and porches were added in 1883. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

In 1857 Sarah Thomas replaced her deceased husband George at Cove Point Light Station at the entrance to the Patuxent River, Maryland, serving until 1859. She tended a lamp with concentric wicks in a new fifth-order Fresnel lens, installed in 1855 to replace the 11 lamps with reflectors on a chandelier.

In 1863 Esther O’Neill replaced her deceased husband John as keeper at Concord Point (Havre de Grace) Light Station at the entrance to the Susquehanna River, Maryland, remaining there until 1881. Esther was the eighth keeper in a single family that tended Concord Point Light Station for several decades.

cumberland head
The Tabberrah family at Cumberland Head around 1880. Photo made from a tintype belonging to Emma’s grandson, Arthur Hillegas.

Emma Tabberrah kept the Cumberland Head Light on Lake Champlain, New York, while I was at Robbins Reef. Her husband was a disabled Civil War veteran with a lead bullet lodged in his hip. Surgery to remove the bullet led to an infection that killed him in 1904. Emma had always helped him keep the light and won the keeper’s appointment. Two daughters assisted her.

I think often how Emma and I would have been impoverished had we not been appointed keepers. After John died, I kept Robbins Reef for four years, paid only a laborer’s wage, while the Light-House Board sought a male keeper. When I finally received the appointment in 1894 with its $600 annual salary, I counted my blessings.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation on Ann Davis is from F. Ross Holland, Maryland Lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay. Information on Sarah Thomas is from Clifford, Nineteenth Century Lights, p. 3. The O’Neill genealogy appears in a brochure published by the Friends of the Concord Point Lighthouse. Information on Emma Taberrah provided by her grandson, Arthur B. Hillegas. Information on Kate Walker from National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 1 (NC-63).

Submitted October 25, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

Education · Kate's Corner · Keepers · News

KATE’S CORNER #12

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

Ship Shoal
This screw-pile structure was built in the Gulf of Mexico between 1857 and 1859 to replace the lightship stationed on Ship Shoal. During the Civil War it was occupied by Confederate forces. Retaken by the Union in 1864, the lighthouse was repaired and refitted. Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

We’ve heard about the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, being contaminated by lead. Light keepers too had problems with their water supply. On September 24, 1866, Acting Engineer Max Bonzano in New Orleans informed the Light-House Board in Washington that “on Ship Shoal [Light Station] every man ever sent there lost his health, which I attribute to the lead paint on the tower and the contamination of rain water with the oxide in lead.”

How could anyone live in an isolated lighthouse several miles off the Louisiana Coast, knowing the water was contaminated?

The solution to the contamination problem was outlined in the 1867 Annual Report of the Light-House Board:

“The continued presence of sickness among the keepers at this station (Ship Shoal) led to the supposition that it was caused by contamination of the drinking water by lead washed into the rain-water tanks from the red lead paint with which the whole structure was painted. The old lead color was scraped and washed off with a solution of caustic potash. This was so perfectly successful that the whole tower looked like new iron which had never been painted.  The potash solution was then rinsed off, and hot coal-tar applied in three successive coats. . . . At the same time the water tanks, and pipes leading to them, were taken down and cleaned with the greatest care, to remove every particle of sediment. The tanks and pipes were then coal-tarred inside and out, so as to envelop in the tar and render harmless any particles of lead salts which might have escaped the cleaning process.  The result of the operation was that the health of the keeper and his assistants at once improved, and there has been no sickness at the place since. The importance of removing the cause of the sickness prevailing at this place cannot well be overestimated. Several persons have been paralyzed, and this fact becoming known was likely to deter anyone from accepting the position of keeper.”

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation is taken from National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 5 (NC-63) and several Annual Reports of the Light-House Board.

Submitted October 10, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

Education · Kate's Corner · Lighthouse Construction

KATE’S CORNER #11

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

The earlier lighthouse on Robbins Reef was built of stone, but my tower was built of cast-iron plate. Cast iron became a very useful material in the second half of the 19th century because it was lightweight and watertight. A cast-iron tower could be made in sections, easily transported, and assembled at the site. It could also be taken down, moved, and reassembled. When lighthouses constructed of masonry sank or blew over, having no solid footing, they were often replaced with much lighter cast-iron structures.

A cast-iron tower for Cape Canaveral was begun in 1860, delayed until the end of the Civil War and completed in 1868. In 1894 continued erosion prompted the tower to be disassembled and moved a mile further inland to its present location. Courtesy National Archives

During the Civil War the Confederates took down the cast-iron tower at Bolivar Point in Texas plate by plate. When the war ended, the sections of the tower’s one-inch-thick cast-iron skin were never found, probably having been used to make armaments.

The Boca Grande Rear Range Lighthouse in Florida served as the Delaware Breakwater Rear Range until 1918. When the tower was offered to the various lighthouse districts, the 7th district superintendent claimed it and erected it on Gasparilla Island.

A 191-foot cast-iron, skeletal structure, the tallest of its kind [191 feet], was erected at Cape Charles to guide ships into Chesapeake Bay. Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office
The third tower at Cape Charles, Virginia, was built in 1895, while I was at Robbins Reef. According to the 1893 specifications for the metal work at Cape Charles: “It is to be an iron skeleton structure, surmounted by a service room, a watch room with gallery, and a lantern accessible from below by a spiral stairs and an elevator inclosed in a cast-iron cylinder. The skeleton structure will rest upon eight circular foundation disks, which will be anchored to a concrete foundation and the lower belt of the stair cylinder.  It will be composed of columns, sockets, struts, and tension rods, forming a frustum of a regular octagonal pyramid, bounded at the upper end by an architrave, the latter supporting an octagonal service room, a circular watch room, surrounded by an octagonal gallery and a sixteen-sided lantern.” Are some of these terms new to you?

I wondered how they put the huge 1st-order Fresnel lens into such a tall tower. On June 17, 1895, the lens, which had been sent to Baltimore from the general depot on Staten Island, New York, was taken to the station by the tender Jessamine. A hoisting engine was set up, a mast erected on the watch room gallery, with the necessary pulleys and rigging, and the parts of the lens apparatus were hoisted outside the tower into the lantern, where they were properly arranged and bolted together by lampists—men specially trained to assemble and maintain lamps and lenses.

Information from Clifford, Nineteenth-Century Lights, pp. 23, 195; 1895 Annual Report of the U.S. Light-House Board; David Cipra, Lighthouses, Lightships, and the Gulf of Mexico; National Archives Record Group 287, Box T683

Submitted September 28, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

 

Education · Kate's Corner · News · U.S. Coast Guard

KATE’S CORNER #10

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef. Last week I showed you a photo of USCGC Margaret Norvell. She wasn’t the only female keeper who has a ship bearing her name. I have one too. It warmed my spirit to be remembered almost 80 years after I retired.

The Coast Guard elected to name their new 175-foot coastal buoy tenders after famous personages of the Lighthouse Service, breaking a tradition that spanned more than one hundred years of naming tenders after flora.

Katherine_Walker552_1_sm
The CGC Katherine Walker (WLM 552) breaks ice on the Hudson River.”; Photo No. 000222-N-8023L-003; 22 February 2000; photo by PA3 Robert Lanier.

USCGC Katherine Walker is homeported in Bayonne, New Jersey. Her area of responsibility spans from New Haven, Connecticut, and the north and south shores of Long Island to New York and New Jersey. USCGC Katherine Walker is responsible for a total of 335 aids to navigation. In addition to her primary mission of tending aids to navigation, USCGC Katherine Walker also conducts search and rescue; icebreaking; and ports, waterways, and coastal security.

My spirit was there when they launched her in 1997, overcome with gratitude that the Coast Guard has chosen to honor a small immigrant keeper who had loved her lighthouse and tended it faithfully for 29 years. And since the cutter was launched, when my spirit needs a little refreshment, I slip onto the forward deck and hang on to the rail while the wind blows my hair and puffs up my skirt. The crew is always startled when they bump into me because I make them shiver.

Nor are Maggie and I the only female keepers so honored. Homeported in Newport, Rhode Island, USCGC Ida Lewis’s area of responsibility spans from Long Island Sound, New York to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. USCGC Abbie Burgess is homeported in Rockland, Maine. Her area of responsibility spans the coast of Maine from Boothbay Harbor all the way to the Canadian Border and the St. Croix River, as well as the Penobscot and St. George Rivers. USCGC Kathleen Moore is a Sentinel-class first response cutter homeported in Key West, Florida. USCGC Barbara Mabrity is a buoy tender homeported in Mobile, Alabama.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresInformation is from https://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/WLB_Photo_Index.asphttp://www.atlanticarea.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/District-1/District-Cutters/USCGC-Katherine-Walker;
http://www.atlanticarea.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/District-1/District-Cutters/USCGC-Ida-Lewis/; and
http://www.atlanticarea.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/District-1/District-Cutters/USCGC-Abbie-Burgess

Submitted September 15, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

Education · Kate's Corner · Keepers · News

KATE’S CORNER #9

Kate Walker here. While I was tending the light on Robbins Reef, Margaret Norvell was tending the light at Port Pontchartain on Lake Pontchartain north of New Orleans in Louisiana. She was there from 1896 until 1924, living in a  square, two-story white frame dwelling built on an iron pile foundation, with a slate roof surmounted by a fifth-order black lantern.

Before that assignment she had been at Head of Passes Light Station in the Mississippi Delta, where her keeper husband drowned, leaving her with two small children. Tending the beacon lights at Head of Passes was considered too strenuous for a woman, so Maggie was transferred to Port Pontchartrain.

LA New Canal (5) copy
New Canal (West End) Lighthouse, Louisiana. Postcard courtesy U.S. Lighthouse Society

In 1924 she moved to New Canal Light Station, also on Lake Pontchartain, and stayed until 1932. The New Canal Lighthouse originally stood in the water, but was later surrounded by dry land in Lakefront Park. The water surge off Lake Pontchartrain during Hurricane Katrina destroyed the base of the lighthouse in 2005. Funds were raised to rebuild, and the new lighthouse reopened on April 13, 2013. I wonder if Hurricane Harvey has done any recent damage?

Margaret Norvell was recognized numerous times for assisting other in distress: “In every big hurricane or storm here since 1891, her lighthouse has been a refuge for fishermen and others whose homes have been swept away. In the . . . storm of 1903 Mrs. Norvell’s lighthouse was the only building left standing on the lower coast, and over 200 survivors found a welcome and shelter in her home. After each storm she started the relief funds and helped the poor folk get back to normal.”

Maggie Norvell said, “there isn’t anything unusual in a woman keeping a light in her window to guide men home. I just happen to keep a bigger light than most women because I have got to see that so many men get safely home.”

USCGC Margaret Norvell
A Coast Guard fast response cutter named after Margaret Norvell was launched in June 2013. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

You can read Keeper Sidney Z. Gross’s vivid account of the 1938 hurricane at Saybrook Breakwater Light in Connecticut courtesy <lighthousefriends.com>.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresQuotes are from the Morning Tribune, June 26, 1932, and The Times Piscayne, September 27, 1931.

Submitted September 5, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.