Education · Kate's Corner

Kate’s Corner #4

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

When my man John was assistant keeper at Sandy Hook Light in New Jersey, he was proud of the fact that it was the oldest continually operated light station in the United States, built in 1764.

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Sandy Hook Light Station, N.J. National Archives photo 26-LG-15-1

John told me that two lotteries were used to raise funds to acquire land on Sandy Hook and pay for construction of the lighthouse. An Act of the Colony of New York, passed on May 19, 1761, established the first lottery. Ten thousand tickets were sold at a price of £2 each. £3,000 of the lottery sales were retained for the purchase of four acres of land on Sandy Hook. A second lottery, held on June 14, 1763, raised an additional £3,000 to build the lighthouse. John had to explain to me why the lottery raised money that had a pound sign in front of it instead of a dollar sign.

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Cape Henry Light, built of stone in 1792, was replaced in 1881 by a cast-iron tower. Photo by Ralph Eshelman

In 1789 the new Congress of the United States decided that the Federal government should control the nation’s lighthouses in order to support shipping. Twelve colonial lighthouses then in operation (including Sandy Hook) were transferred and the new government set about constructing Cape Henry Lighthouse at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, financed by a Congressional appropriation.

President George Washington had to assign the care of lighthouses to one of his cabinet members. He had only four: Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury, and Attorney General. Washington assigned lighthouses to Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury.

Do you know someone who buys lottery tickets? What happens to the money raised?

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresInformation from National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 17J; http://www.lighthousefriends.com; and http://www.presidential-power.org/presidential-cabinets

Submitted July 20, 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.

Cape Henry Light, built of stone in 1792, was replaced in 1881 by a cast-iron tower.

Education · Kate's Corner · Keepers

KATE’S CORNER #3

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

Before John Walker brought me to Robbins Reef, he was assistant keeper at Sandy Hook Light Station. There we had a well to supply our drinking water. Robbins Reef sits on a huge rock ledge, surrounded by deep water. No place for a well. We depend on rain water, which runs off the roof into gutters that direct it to a cistern in the base of the lighthouse.

Is ‘cistern’ a familiar term to you? These water barrels come in all shapes and sizes. How much water do you think a keeper and his family would require every day? They had no flush toilets until late in the 19th century. For what other needs did they require fresh water? Would you like to do laundry by hand using water hand-pumped out of a cistern and heated on a wood stove?

HAND PUMPHave you ever seen an old fashioned hand pump? If you live in a city, probably not. Country folks who have a well can still buy such a pump from Amazon.com.

Kathleen Moore, who kept Black Rock Harbor Light off Bridgeport, Connecticut, said that she too “had to depend on rain for our water, . . .. We tried a number of times to dig for water, but always struck salt.” Salt water is not ‘potable.’

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Julia Williams, keeper of the Santa Barbara Light, 1865-1905. Courtesy of Santa Barbara Historical Museum

At the Santa Barbara Light in California not enough rain fell to fill the cistern. Keeper Julia Williams saddled a horse, took her baby in her arms, and, followed by her two little girls, rode a mile to a spring to bring home cans of water slung across the saddle of her horse.

The keepers at Matagorda Island in Texas also relied on cisterns. The nearest well was three miles away. Water was needed for family use and also to run the steam engine that powered the fog signal. The cistern at Matagorda Island, destroyed in an 1887 storm, was replaced by two new ones with a 3,402-gallon capacity. You wouldn’t worry about running out of water if you had that much.

How much water does your household use each day?
21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker lores

Information from the New York Sunday World, 1889; Annual Report of the Light-House Board; National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 35 (NC-31) Volume 283, “Light-House Letters.”

Submitted July 12, 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 #2

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

If you plan to come visit me, be careful you don’t get your feet tangled up in your long skirts as you come up that ladder. It takes both hands to climb up or down the ladder, so you don’t have a free hand to gather up your skirts. I very discretely tucked the hem of my dress into my skirt band when I had to hurry down the ladder to launch my dinghy and help some ship-wrecked sailor.

Women didn’t wear pants in the 1890s. It was considered indecorous, and I wasn’t going to do anything to rouse the Lighthouse Inspector’s disapproval. There was one female keeper, however, who didn’t let that worry her because her invalid father was the official keeper. Kathleen Moore at Black Rock Harbor Light on the north shore of Long Island Sound slept at night, dressed in a suit of boy’s clothes. “Our house was forty rods from the light tower, and to reach it I had to walk across two planks under which on stormy nights was four feet of water.” Water-logged skirts were one hazard that Kathleen didn’t intend to endure.

In addition to tending the light on her house at Michigan City, Indiana, Harriet Colfax put a lamp in the beacon at the end of a 1,500-foot-long pier that had an elevated walkway.

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The pier leading to Michigan East Breakwater Light in rough weather. The Michigan City light keeper walked out on the elevated walkway to place a lamp in the beacon at the end. Photo from the National Archives #26-LG-56-32

In her log Harriet mentioned on September 18, 1872, “Heavy gale. The waves, dashing over both Piers, very nearly carrying me with them into the lake.” The storms she described buffeted her with gusts of wind, flinging not only waves across the walkway, but also blinding sheets of spray and sleet. She must have gotten soaked.

In 1883 the Light-House Board issued an official keeper uniform—double-breasted coat with yellow buttons, dark blue trousers, and a cap bearing a yellow metal lighthouse badge. But women keepers were exempted from wearing them.

Someone should have designed a uniform for female keepers and female assistants—water-proof boots and a divided skirt with buttonholes in the skirt hem that could be fastened to buttons on the belt when keepers had to traverse an elevated walkway during a storm.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker loresInformation found in the New York Sunday World, 1889, and the Bridgeport Standard, March 25, 1878. Harriet Colfax’s log is in the National Archives, Record Group 26, Entry 80 (NC-31).

Submitted July 6, 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 consider joining 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

KATE’S CORNER #1

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

The only way to get to Robbins Reef is by boat, and when you get here, there’s no place to pull a boat out of the water. Everyone has to climb up the ladder to the deck of the lighthouse, and our boat has to be hauled out of the water with a davit. I’m not good at explaining mechanical devices, so I Googled “davit” and found that “a davit is any of various crane-like devices used on a ship for supporting, raising, and lowering boats, anchors, etc.” Well, they are used on lighthouses too, to safely lift up out of the ocean the dingy that is our link to civilization. Before we climb the ladder into the lighthouse, we fasten the dinghy to the ropes that hang from the davit. And when we reach the deck, we winch the boat up on the davit. When we leave the lighthouse, we lower the dinghy to the water before we go down the ladder.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, take a look at my lighthouse—especially at where our dinghy sits. You can see the ladder as well near the left edge of the foundation on which the lighthouse rests.

Robbins Reef NY USCGHO
Robbins Reef Light Station on the west side of New York Upper Bay, marking shoal water on the New Jersey side of the main channel to the Manhattan docks
Photo from the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Behind the dinghy in this picture is the deck where I serve tea to guests who come to visit in the summer. They tie their boat to the ladder, which is safe because they come only in good weather and don’t stay long enough to have their boat threatened.

Our living quarters are on two floors, living room and kitchen opening onto the deck and bedrooms above. You can see the Manhattan skyline behind the lighthouse.

What year would you guess this photo was taken? If you study it carefully, there are clues to help you decide.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker lores

 

Submitted June 29, 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 consider joining 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

Welcome to KATE’S CORNER

Hi. I’m Kate Walker. My husband John Walker was appointed keeper of the light on Robbins Reef in New York Harbor in 1885.

This drawing of me and my favorite granddaughter on the lighthouse balcony was published in the New Orleans Times Picayune on December 21, 1902.

If you wonder what all that lumber behind us is, my son Jacob and I land lumber that is washed away from railroad yards and shipyards along the shore—harpooning the logs with a rope and tying them to the railing until low tide, when they could be set up to dry. A floating or submerged log can wreck a sailing schooner.

When I first came to Robbins Reef, the sight of water whichever way I looked, made me lonesome. I refused to unpack my trunks at first, but gradually, a little at a time, I unpacked. After a while they were all unpacked and I stayed on.

In 1890 John developed pneumonia. My son Jacob rowed him to Staten Island to see a doctor. John’s last words to me as they launched the dingy were, “Mind the light, Katie.”

Ten days later John died. A substitute keeper was sent so I could arrange for his burial and attend his funeral, but I was back at the light before that day ended.

I was 44 years old with two children to care for and no income. I asked for John’s job, but there were objections because I’m only four feet ten inches tall and weigh barely 100 pounds. The Light-House Board offered the post to several men, who turned it down because Robbins Reef is so lonely. They paid me a laborer’s wage to look after the light until finally in 1894, with no one else wanting the post, they did appoint me. I got the same wage as John—$600 a year. I kept that light, with only Jacob to help me, from 1890 until 1919.

I’ve joined the U.S. Lighthouse Society and want to share what I know about keeping a lighthouse. Look for the first installment in a week or so.

Based on an article by Carol Bird, “The Loneliest Woman in the World,” Philadelphia Ledger, Sunday, August 23, 1925, found in Women Who Kept the Lights.

Submitted June 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 consider joining 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.

Affiliates · Education · News

It Takes an Engineer to Raise a Lighthouse

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East Clayton Elementary students create a lighthouse “museum” each year to exhibit their models. Photo courtesy of Clayton Elementary

For many years, the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society (OBLHS) has offered to visit classrooms to talk about North Carolina lighthouses. This year, two fourth-grade teams of teachers and their students take the spotlight: East Clayton Elementary in Raleigh and Providence Creek Elementary in Charlotte. Students studied coastal features and current problems as well as lighthouse architecture.

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Students study what North Carolina lighthouses looked like during the Civil War. Photo by Bruce Roberts

Bruce Roberts and Cheryl Shelton-Roberts, cofounders of OBLHS, had the pleasure to visit Providence Creek Elementary. The center of the room was dominated by a big coastal map showing ocean and inlets and sounds. Marking major map points were students’ handmade lighthouse models–and this went on throughout five classrooms.

Small teams in each class chose one of nine lighthouses to reproduce as a 3-D model. It was great fun to listen to students explain, “This didn’t stick, then that tore, then I couldn’t get the model to be round, and the pattern [daymark] didn’t look right.” These remarks were followed by thrown-back hands and, “It’s not as easy as it looks.” Perhaps not, but these young engineers did an impressive job. These visits are always inspirational and fun. We also offer follow-ups via personal communication with students who either have further questions or share their written projects.

Showing how LED light works Providence Creek Elem Charlotte
Two young lighthouse engineers explained how their programmed LED light worked to make their model shine brightly. Photo by Bruce Roberts

Former OBLHS president, Bett Padgett, has visited with East Clayton fourth graders several times. These students have “adopted” our society and have donated well over $1,000 for the benefit of North Carolina’s lights.

OBLHS offers two types of grants to assist classes traveling to a lighthouse or to help with expenses while studying maritime history, currently included in fourth- and eighth-grade state curricula. The society has sponsored hundreds of students to visit a lighthouse. You can read more about these grants on their website.

Submitted by Cheryl Roberts, Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, April 3, 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 consider joining 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.