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.

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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.

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Education · Kate's Corner · News

KATE’S CORNER #19

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef, with more on lighthouse architecture.

The light in the tower is what really mattered in a lighthouse. The tower of a lighthouse was there to support the lantern which housed the optic. The light needed protection from the weather and birds and anything else that might fly into it. The protective lantern was typically constructed of cast iron; round, square, octagonal, or hexagonal-shaped; and surrounded by a stone or cast-iron gallery.

bird island
An early drawing of Bird Island, MA, with its birdcage lantern. National Archives
Old Cape Henry (4) REE copy
Old Cape Henry, VA. Photo by Ralph Eshelman

Until the adoption of the Fresnel lens in the United States in the 1850s, there was no uniform design for the lantern. Pre-1850s lanterns are rare and are often referred to as old-style or bird-cage lanterns because of their bird-cage appearance. Selkirk (Salmon River) Lighthouse, New York, built in 1838, retains its bird cage lantern. The bird cage lantern on Cape Henry Lighthouse, Virginia, is a reconstruction of one built in 1792.

Many pre-1850s light towers had their older lantern removed and new cast-iron lanterns installed when Fresnel lenses were added to a light station. Most light stations in the United States were fitted with Fresnel lenses by 1860. In addition to the replacement of the lantern, the tower supporting the lantern was often modified to accommodate the larger lenses.

Fresnel lenses were developed in seven standard sizes, depending on need. The largest first-order lenses were designed for important coastal sites while the sixth order, the smallest, was designed for small harbors and rivers. In a new lighthouse the Light-House Board decided what order lens would be used.

Orders
Standard plans for first-, second-, third-, and fourth-order lanterns. National Archives

To accommodate these new lenses the Lighthouse Board designed four pre-made, ready-to-assemble cast-iron lanterns for first, second, third, and fourth orders. (The fourth-order lantern could accommodate fourth-, fifth-, and sixth order Fresnel lenses.) While it was possible to install a smaller order lens in a lantern of a larger order, it was not possible to increase the lens size for a lantern of a lesser order except for the fifth or sixth. Detailed plans for these cast-iron lanterns can be found in the National Archives, as well as plans for many other lanterns—often the exact plan for the lantern of a specific lighthouse.

Absecon NJ by ANi Berberian copy
Access to the lantern room was via stone, wood, or cast-iron stairs which either wound around a central column or spiraled along the interior sides of the tower walls. Stairway at Absecon, NJ, by Ani Berberian

Windows in towers were positioned to provide daylight onto the stairs. For taller towers, landings were provided at regular intervals. The top landing ended at the watchroom where the keeper on duty ensured that the light was functioning properly. The lantern room above was usually reached by a ladder.

Information is from the Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook.

Submitted by March 14, 2018

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copy

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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 #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.