Education · Kate's Corner · News

KATE’S CORNER #18

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on  Robbins Reef.. I know that at least two people are reading my blog because they caught the typo in the last post.

Spectacle Reef sectional elevation
Sectional elevation for the construction of Spectacle Reef. Courtesy National Archives

Two more architectural types that I haven’t discussed were used offshore. My lighthouse on Robbins Reef is on a crib. According to Lighthouse Friends, “A wooden cofferdam was pieced together on the reef, made watertight, and pumped dry. Workmen then entered the cofferdam and built up a foundation that was subsequently capped with a granite, circular crib. Atop this crib, a four-story, iron sparkplug tower was erected.” Wooden cribs, constructed onshore, towed to the site, and then filled with stone to sink them in place were a lighthouse foundation type used in places where a hard rock bottom would not allow for a caisson or screwpile.

unnamed
The 93-foot Spectacle Reef Lighthouse (1874) on Lake Huron, Michigan, is located 10½ miles from the closest land. Courtesy National Archives

Construction of Toledo Harbor Lighthouse began in 1901. Since there was no outcropping of rock to use as a foundation, the Army Corps of Engineers came up with a creative way to build the light in the middle of the lake. They sunk a large crib below the water and filled it with stone. Once the crib was in place, they topped it with a concrete base, completing the artificial island. The engineers next put steel frames in place, providing stability for a three-story brick structure. Attached to it was a one-story fog signal building. Both structures are still standing today. A light tower projects from the roof of the dwelling.

unnamed (1)
The Brandywine Shoal caisson lighthouse replaced the pile structure in 1914. Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office
Baltimore Elevation
This drawing shows the caisson foundation for Baltimore Lighthouse, Maryland. Courtesy of Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook

Caisson foundations worked well in unconsolidated bottoms composed of sand or mud. The caisson lighthouse used a large cast-iron cylinder, which was sunk on the bottom and filled with rock and concrete to form a foundation. The caisson foundation was sturdier and better able to withstand heavy stress than the pile foundation lighthouses, so it is not surprising that caisson lighthouses were built in areas where moving ice was a hazard. Brandywine Shoal in New Jersey replaced a pile lighthouse in 1914. Where bottoms were harder, contained rocks, and/or needed greater depth of penetration into the substrate, a pneumatic process was used. The substrate within the caisson was removed and the caisson allowed to sink further into the bottom. Eleven pneumatic caisson lighthouses were built in the United States. The Sabine Bank Lighthouse (1905) in Texas is the most exposed, located 15 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, the only caisson south of the Chesapeake Bay.

A relatively recent technological development in lighthouse construction was the Texas tower type which replaced exposed lightships offshore. Texas towers were modeled on the offshore oil drilling platforms first employed off the Texas coast. The first Texas tower lighthouse in the United States was the Buzzards Bay Light, located in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, and commissioned on November 1, 1961. A total of six Texas tower lighthouses were constructed.

I’m very curious about caissons and Texas towers because I’ve never seen any of them. I’m delighted, however, to offer you photos and drawings of cribs and caissons.

Sources: Lighthouse Friends and Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook, Part 4

Submitted February 7, 2018

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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.

 

Kate's Corner · Lighthouse Construction · News

KATE’S CORNER #17

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

Robbins Reef marks a hazardous reef in New York Bay so does not need to be seen at a great distance. According to the 1892 Light List, my light is 58 feet above sea level. Coastal lights need to be seen from great distances so the light’s focal plane must be at a higher elevation.

Several light stations on the northeastern coast were located to take advantage of naturally high elevations, such as Block Island Southeast Lighthouse, Rhode Island, and Monhegan Island Lighthouse, Maine. On the west coast some lighthouses tended to be short towers built on sea cliffs high enough to project the light many miles at sea.

Block Island SE 2011 by JCC (14) copy
Block Island Southeast, Rhode Island. Its light is 204 feet above sea level. Image by Candace Clifford, 2011

Ironically, the low clouds so characteristic of the west coast caused some station sites at high elevations to be moved to lower altitudes with taller towers in order to get the light below the low cloud levels, but high enough to be visible to ships at sea. The first Point Loma Lighthouse (1855), California, tower was only 40 feet tall but was located on a bluff providing a focal plane of 462 feet above the water. It was replaced in 1891 by a 70-foot-high tower built at the base of the bluff with a focal plane of 88 feet above the water.

Point Loma CA 1859 print NA 26-LG-65-3-ac copy
Old Point Loma lighthouse, California. Detail from a 1859 print from the National Archives.

Lighthouses were built on land, in the water, on islands, on top of ledges and cliffs, on breakwaters and piers, on caissons, and at least five are on fort walls. Some light towers are standalone structures, while others are attached or integral to the keeper’s quarters or fog signal building. Lighthouses were built from a variety of materials including wood, stone, brick, reinforced concrete, iron, steel, and even aluminum and fiberglass.

In addition to a light tower, a completely equipped light station on the mainland might consist of a keepers’ quarters, oil house, fog-signal building, workshop, water supply (generally a cistern), privy, landing wharf, boathouse and ways, barn, roads, walks, and fences. Some regions required special structures to provide access to the light tower. The elevated walkway or catwalk found on some of the piers of the Great Lakes was necessary for the keeper to get to the pierhead light during severe storms when waves washed over the pier or ice made it too dangerous to walk on the pier. Stations that retain most of their supporting structures exhibit a high level of historic integrity.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyI’m gleaning all these wonderful descriptions of lighthouse architecture from The Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook.

Submitted January 21, 2018

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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.

 

Kate's Corner · Lighthouse Construction · News

KATE’S CORNER #16

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

There were a lot of locations where the heavy tall towers I talked about earlier couldn’t be built. If the bottom was muddy or sandy, as in  the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River delta, and the coral reefs of the Florida Keys, the development of newer technology using screwpile, caisson, and skeletal tower lighthouse construction was essential to adequately warn navigators of the shoals and currents offshore.

Foundation Screw pile
Screwpile lighthouses, built on a foundation of pilings, had a screw-like flange fastened to the bottom of the pile and wound like a screw into the soft bottom.  U.S. Light-House Board drawing in Society Archives

Screwpile lighthouses were either low spider-like foundations for rivers, bays, and sounds, or tall offshore coastal towers. Perhaps as many as 100 spider-like screwpile lighthouses were built throughout the Carolina sounds, the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, along the Gulf of Mexico, and one even at Maumee Bay (1855) on Lake Erie in Ohio. Most had wooden keeper’s dwellings, although Seven Foot Knoll in Maryland had a cast iron dwelling.

Thomas Point Shoal 2
Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse (1875), Maryland, the oldest extant, unmoved, spider-like screwpile lighthouse in the United States was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999. It has been under restoration as a museum by the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, which provides public tours.  Photo by Society Member John J. Young, 2016
Gasparilla Island FL November 2016 - Sharon Jones copy
Gasparilla Rear Range in Florida served as the Delaware Breakwater Rear Range before it was moved to Florida. Photo showing 2016 restoration by Society Member Sharon Jones.

Onshore skeletal towers were built of cast iron and were typically constructed on concrete foundations. Manitou Island Lighthouse (1861) and Whitefish Point Lighthouse (1861), Michigan, both built from the same plan, are the earliest onshore skeletal towers built in the United States. Like the cast-iron-plate tower, skeletal towers could be dismantled and moved.

Offshore skeletal towers were also built of cast iron and typically constructed with straight or screwpile foundations. A few offshore screwpile skeletal tower lighthouses built on coral reefs used foot plates or disks to help disperse the weight of the tower. Examples in the Florida Keys include Carysfort Reef Lighthouse (1852), Fowey Rocks Lighthouse (1878), and American Shoal Lighthouse (1880).

Iron Pile Light Houses Sand Key and Carysfort Reef NA RG 26 (92) copy
The first of the tall skeletal screwpile coastal towers in the United States was Carysfort Reef Lighthouse (1852), Florida, built by engineer George Meade, which is still extant.  National Archives drawing from the Society Archives

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyAll this interesting information is from the National Park Service Maritime Heritage Program, Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook, released in August 1997, created through a cooperative partnership between the National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program, and U.S. Lighthouse Society.

Submitted December 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 · 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.