Education · Kate's Corner · News

Kate’s Corner #27

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

If I don’t write English too good, you’re probably wondering how I write these blog posts. Voice recognition software. It’s wonderful. I just say what I want to and the computer records it. Then my son Jacob goes through what I’ve said and straightens out my awkward sentences. I rely constantly on Jacob and don’t know what I would do without him. He was also my postman, marketman, and general courier.

Jacob was officially appointed assistant keeper in 1896. He married and brought his bride to Robbins Reef to live, using the second bedroom. When I retired in 1919, Jacob became principal keeper. He was in charge when the Lighthouse Service began experimenting with radio.

The first radio beacons, installed after 1921 to allow navigators to pinpoint their position, must have seemed almost miraculous. Marine radio beacons were non-directional; the signal was sent to the whole horizon. The first signals used were short and distinctive for each station. Sending minutes were alternated and frequencies varied so that signals would not interfere with each other. Ships needed only a simple direction-finder or radio compass to pick up the signals.

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Circa 1930s postcard of Highland Lighthouse on Cape Cod with radio beacons. (Collection of Jeremy D’Entremont)

The navigator on the bridge of the transatlantic steamer, when he was 200 miles or so off the coast, began to take radio bearings on Nantucket lightship. For most of the vessels crossing the Atlantic this was the first radio outpost of America. When he picked up the signal four dashes (—-) repeated continuously, he knew he had the lightship, and in a few seconds by rotating the coil first from one side and then from the other, until the signal fades away, he obtained accurately the direction of the Nantucket Beacon. After passing Nantucket safely, the navigator could at once pick up the two dash (- -) radio signal of Fire Island Light ship, and later the continuous dot ( . . . . . . ) signal of Ambrose Lightship, anchored off the entrance to the Ambrose Channel into New York Harbor.

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The Ambrose Lightship (WAL-512), now a tourist attraction at the South Street Seaport in New York City, received one of the earliest radio beacons in the U.S. in 1921, greatly assisting navigation of the congested channel in dense fog. Photo by Jeremy D’Entremont.

A vessel equipped with a radio direction-finder could take a bearing on another ship sending radio signals, and thus determine its direction at sea by the same method it would use with the radio beacon on shore. This taking of bearings between ship and ship diminished the risk of collision and fog and it also helped one ship to find another which may be in distress.

Introduction of the radio was an enormous boon to mariners. With the ability to communicate with land and other vessels, mariners could send distress calls and share weather forecasts and notices of moved buoys or defects in aids to navigation. Jacob enjoyed experimenting with his radio beacon.

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Information is from Annual Reports of the Light-House Board and George R. Putnam, Sentinel of the Coasts (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1937), pp. 199 – 215.

Education · Kate's Corner · News

Kate’s Corner #26

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef. It may surprise you to know that I spent part of every day on paperwork. John taught me how to keep the records and make the reports, but after he died, I relied on my son Jacob to put my words onto the report forms because writing in English was difficult for me. I always signed them.

I had to submit a monthly report on the condition of the station and make explicit specifications for any needed repairs. Expenditures of oil, etc., and salary vouchers were to be submitted quarterly. Property returns were submitted annually along with receipts for extra supplies and for their delivery. I signed a receipt for all the station property when I took charge.

Robbins Reef NY NA RG 26 Entry 1 nc-63 601 files-15
From National Archives RG 26 Entry 1 (NC-63)

The 1880 Laws and Regulations Relating to the Light-House Establishment of the United States listed 68 different types of forms used in managing the Lighthouse Service. I was to forward to District Inspector Commander A.S. Snow reports of shipwrecks, any damage to station apparatus, and any unusual occurrence. I kept a daily expenditure book, a general account book, and a journal in which I recorded the work I’d done that day, any visit of the Inspector or Engineer or of the lampist or machinist, or any delivery of stores.

Also any item of interest occurring in the vicinity, such as the state of the weather, or other similar matter. Although it wasn’t specified, I recorded every visitor who came to the lighthouse, because there weren’t many.

Among my unexpected visitors was a box containing a dead baby, which I rowed to the coroner on Staten Island. On another day a young couple out rowing were carried onto the reef by the tide and stove a hole in the bow of their rowboat. The girl was frantic because she couldn’t get home that night. Fortunately a friend of my daughter Mamie rowed out to the lighthouse that evening to pay a call. He agreed to take them ashore, where they promptly got married and avoided a scandal.

didn’t report these to the Light-House Board.

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Information is from the 1881 Instructions to Lightkeepers, National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 1, Volume 753; and the New York Times, March 5, 1906.

Education · Kate's Corner · Keepers

Kate’s Corner #25

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

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Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse, from a nineteenth century newspaper

Fog was frequent at Robbins Reef. When I saw it coming, I went down into the deep basement and started the engine that sent out siren blasts from the fog signal at intervals of three seconds. What a huge advance from the cannon that was used as a fog signal at Boston Harbor 200 years ago. Fog bells run mechanically were introduced in the early 1850s. They were operated by a striking mechanism and weight that was raised by either a flywheel or clockwork. Steam-powered whistles were introduced in the late 1850s. In 1866 the reed horn signal powered by a caloric engine was also introduced.

 

On April 25, 1893, our fog bell was removed and a blower siren was installed, operated by a Priestman engine. This engine only lasted for a few years before a Hornsby-Akroyd oil engine replaced it in 1896. Two years later, a larger trumpet for the fog siren was installed, and the fog-signal apparatus was overhauled and repaired.

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Children of Keeper Ralph Norwood atop Boston Light’s fog cannon in the 1930s; photo courtesy of Willie Emerson. This cannon, North America’s first fog signal, went into service in 1718 and is still on display at the lighthouse on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor.

The siren made so much noise that Jacob and I didn’t even try to sleep.

A siren installed at Alcatraz Light Station in San Francisco Bay caused a storm of complaints from residents who found it grating.

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Bakers Island Lighthouse, Salem, Massachusetts. When a powerful new fog siren replaced a fog bell in 1907, the complaints of island residents over the noise were vehement. Eventually, the signal was aimed at the sea through a megaphone, seen above, so that it was barely audible on the island. From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dolly Bicknell.

Juliet Nichols tended the Angel Island Light and Fog Signal Station in San Francisco Bay while I was at Robbins Reef. A new striking apparatus was installed on Angel Island in 1905. In 1906 Juliet was watching the fog roll in through the Golden Gate, as it regularly does, and listening to the fog signals start up in the lighthouses on both sides of the channel. She rushed to start her own equipment, only to have the machinery cough into silence. Juliet struck the bell by hand for 20 hours and 35 minutes.

Occasionally my fog horn machinery broke down, and then I climbed to the top of the tower and banged a huge bell. When the men at the nearby lighthouse depot on Staten Island heard the bell, they knew they must visit Robbins Reef and make repairs to the fog signal as soon as wind and weather permitted.

Mechanical fog bells were notorious for breaking down. The mechanical pounding of the bell produced strong vibrations, which caused tension bars and hammer springs to break, even snapping the rope attached to the clockwork weight. Juliet Nichol’s whole career at Angel Island [1902 – 1914] was a battle with fog. Her log recorded periods of fog as long as 80 hours at a time and the many times she was forced to strike the bell by hand.

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The fog signal building at Point Knox, Angel Island. (U.S. Lighthouse Society)

On the fourth of July, 1906, the machinery [at Angel Island] went to pieces., the great tension bar broke in two and I could not disconnect the hammer to strike by hand. I stood all night on the platform outside and struck the bell with a hammer with all my might. The fog was dense, with heavy mist, almost rain.

What a way to celebrate Independence Day!

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Information is from Clifford, Nineteenth Century Lights, p. 83; National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 1, Volume 755; Annual Report of the U. S. Light-House Board; National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 8 (NC-63); Clifford, Women Who Kept the Lights

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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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. You can receive these posts via email if you click on the “SUBSCRIBE” button in the right-hand column. Please support this electronic newsletter by 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 · News

KATE’S CORNER #21

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

Let me dispel a bit of misinformation that is circulating, prompted by self-appointed experts who never check the accuracy of their assumptions. ​As far as I’ve been able to research, women who kept the lights were paid the same salary as male keepers. My husband John was paid $600 a year; ​and when I finally received his appointment, ​I was paid $600 a year. With their housing provided, in the 1890s a family could live, frugally, on less than $2 a day.

Kate first served as a laborer when her husband John died.  When no one else permanently accepted the position, they offered it to her.​ National Archives microfilm publication M1373
Salaries have changed over the years. The first woman who received an official  keeper’​s appointment on the Chesapeake Bay was Ann Davis, appointed in 1830 at Point Lookout Light Station at the Potomac River entrance. She received a salary of $350 per year.
Ann​ requested a salary increase in 1842 through the local customs collector who supported her request. Apparently her request was denied, she was reportedly earning $350 in 1847.
Although Alcatraz keeper Michael Kassin’s salary was increased from $700 to $1,100 in 1854, he soon resigned.  The salary reduced from $1,100 to $800 in 1859 and continued to fluctuate. National Archives photo.

The Gold Rush in 1849 in California led to a steep increase in everyone’s salary on the West Coast because skilled labor became very hard to find. After several vessels experienced difficulty in the waters along the West Coast, Congress passed acts in 1850 and 1851 that provided funds for eight lighthouses to be built along the Pacific Coast. Light from a fixed, third-order Fresnel lens was first shown from Alcatraz Lighthouse on June 1, 1854, with Michael Kassin ​eventually ​receiving an annual salary of $1,100 as head keeper and John Sloan being paid $700 to serve as his assistant.

During the Civil War average principal keeper salaries elsewhere had increased to $500-$600 a year. But in remote stations like Cape Flattery in Washington State and Minots Ledge in Maine or dangerous locations like Frying Pan Shoals Light Vessel in North Carolina and Martin’s Industry Light Vessel in South Carolina principal keepers received $1,000 a year. Betsy ​Humphrey who assumed her husband’s position on Monhegan Island in Maine in 1862, was paid the same salary as her husband—$820. In 1876 she was reappointed at a reduced salary of $700. All salaries fell back closer to the average after the war. In 1896 Margaret Norvell at Port Pontchartain Light Station in Louisiana received the same salary I did.
The reduction of Betsy’s salary at Monhegan Island could also have been triggered by reduction in her duties. In 1870, her fog bell was replaced by a steam fog signal on nearby Manana Island which had its own keeper. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

As I’ve already told you, I earned $600 a year in 1894. Emma Taberrah, who in 1904 was appointed keeper of the Cumberland Head Light Station, earned only $480, but she was keeping a minor station on Lake Champlain in Upstate New York and did not tend a fog signal.

Cumberland Head ca. 1910 courtesy of the Herb Entwistle Collection.

In 1918 Congress decreed that the average salary for light keepers should be $840. These salaries were supplemented by food supplies brought by tender to locations where there was no suitable land for gardening or keeping livestock.

Information is from F. Ross Holland, Maryland Lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay (Maryland Historical Trust Press and The Friends of St. Clements Island Museum, 1997); <Lighthousefriends.com>; Clifford, Women Who Kept the Lights​ (available from the Keeper’s Locker); and Lighthouse Service Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 7, July 1918.

Submitted May 10, 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. You can receive these posts via email if you click on the “SUBSCRIBE” button in the right-hand column. Please support this electronic newsletter by 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 · Event · News · Vessels

School children visit museum ship for “masked ball”

TIME/DATE:  Tuesday, April 24; Wednesday, April 25; Friday, April 27 from 10 AM to 1 PM

PLACE: Lighthouse Tender LILAC, Pier 25, N. Moore and West Streets

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Courtesy LILAC Preservation Project

New York, NY—The Time in Children’s Arts Initiative is bringing underprivileged children to the Lighthouse Tender LILAC this week.  After brief tours of the retired Coast Guard cutter, the children will pose with their handmade paper bag masks for photos on the ship. Inspired by the work of artist Saul Steinberg, the “masked ball” celebrates the opera Cendrillon, Massenet’s version of Cinderella, now in performance at the Metropolitan Opera.

Four classes are scheduled daily on the above dates. Each group will visit the ship  for 45 minutes. Arrival times are 10:00 AM, 10:45 AM, 11:30 AM and 12:15 PM with the last group to depart at 1:00 PM.

Time In Children’s Arts Initiative brings the city’s youngest, most at-risk public schoolchildren out of underserved classrooms and into the world of the living arts, every week of the school year, as part of their regular school day. Time In’s kids are immersed in a joyful combination of opera, literacy, the visual arts and museum visits. To learn more see timeinkids.org

LILAC is America’s only surviving steam-powered lighthouse tender. The US Coast Guard Cutter LILAC was built in 1933 and supplied lighthouses and maintained buoys until she was retired in 1972. This unique ship, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open to the public as a free museum at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 offering programs in the arts and maritime history. More information may be found at www.lilacpreservationproject.org.

Submitted by Mary Habstritt, Museum Director, Lilac Preservation Project

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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. You can receive these posts via email if you click on the “SUBSCRIBE” button in the right-hand column. Please support this electronic newsletter by 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 · Lighthouse Construction · News

KATE’S CORNER #20

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

We talked earlier about lighthouses with caisson foundations. Let’s look at two caisson lights.

Fourteen Foot Bank DE NA 26-LG-71-68-ac copy
Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse in Delaware Bay is still an active aid to navigation. National Archives image 26-LG-71-68

Fourteen Foot Bank Light Station stands in Delaware Bay near Bowers Beach. It was America’s first pneumatic caisson lighthouse structure, built in 1887. The U.S. Light-House Board (USLHB) Committee on Engineering reviewed and approved all lighthouse plans, sometimes recommending modifications or additions to the design. A letter from the Committee on Engineering to the Chairman, USLHB, on June 4, 1883, outlined their plan:

The Committee considers that . . . a cylinder 35 feet in diameter would present the most advantages. This cylinder should be sunk into the sand not to exceed 23 feet. The sand should not be excavated from the inside but remain at the same level as the sand outside. The rest of the cylinder should be filled with concrete, except the necessary space for cellar, fog signals, etc. To prevent scour, brush mattresses should be placed outside the cylinder, extending about 30 feet from the base, and then be loaded with a rip-rap of heavy stone for a distance of 6 to 8 feet above the bottom. The cylinder should extend 24 feet above high water mark. This will make the total length of the cylinder 73 feet.

On July 5, 1885, the wooden caisson, with three tiers of the iron cylinder built upon it, was towed to the site and sunk into position by letting water into it. The caisson was then filled with compressed air, and on July 23d had penetrated to a depth of 13 feet. On August 28 the required depth of 23 feet below the surface of the shoal was reached, and by the middle of September the contractors had finished the work of setting up the plates and filling into the cylinder 2,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Sabine Bank, Texas, was the only lighthouse along the Gulf Coast to be built with a caisson foundation. The caisson was towed to the site of the station, a distance of 16 miles, and was anchored to special clusters of mooring piles.

Sabine Bank TX USCGHO
Sabine Bank, TX, courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

A working pier in the shape of a horseshoe, 90 feet by 60 feet in plan, was built at the site of the station, the caisson being located between the wings of this pier. On the pier were two stiff-leg derricks, boilers, engines, compressors, pumps, dynamo, cisterns, and quarters for the working party. About 300 tons of ballast rock was placed around the outside of the caisson to prevent scouring. The station was completed in March 1906.

On October 24, 1906, the District Engineer reported that a gale had pushed the sea so high “that it raised the roof of the gallery off of the gallery columns, and broke some of them . . ..”

In October 1915, “the sea washed the hatches off gallery floor, broke in the storm shutters on that floor, tore off the iron gallery roof and stanchions supporting it for three-quarters of the circumference of the tower, carrying away two boats in the davits.”  The keepers were commended for staying on station until the need for fresh water compelled them to go ashore.

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation is from National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 9; 1886 and 1904 Annual Report of the Light-House Board; and Lighthouse Service Bulletin No.46, pp. 181-182.

Submitted April 10, 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. You can receive these posts via email if you click on the “SUBSCRIBE” button in the right-hand column. Please support this electronic newsletter by  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.