Keepers · News

Historic Plymouth lighthouse opens for day of tours

Project Gurnet, a nonprofit, restores and maintains Duxbury Pier Light (Bug Light) and The Plymouth Light Station (Gurnet Light, Fort Andrew and the Keeper’s Cottage). Their event on Saturday took visitors on a path through time with 10 stations manned by Project employees, volunteers and historical reenactors.” — May 27, 2017 Patriot Ledger article by Mary Whitfill: Historic Plymouth lighthouse opens for day of tours

The reenactors portrayed the first keepers of the lighthouse — John and Hannah Thomas. The Massachusetts Bay Colony paid them 5 shillings for the use their land and £200 annually for keeping the light. When General Thomas went off to fight in the Revolutionary War, his wife, Hannah, was left in charge of the light. John never returned, having died of smallpox while in command of the colonial army in Canada, so Hannah was in charge of the station when the new federal government took over colonial lighthouses in 1789.

Salaries of Massachusetts’ lighthouse keepers in 1789. Excerpt from a letter dated October 16, 1789, from Boston Customs Collector and Superintendent of Lighthouses John Rice to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 17A

Hannah’s son John took over as keeper in 1790.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, May 30, 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.

Exhibits · Keepers · News

Opening Soon! Legends of the Light Exhibit

St. Augustine Lighthouse Keeper C.D. Daniels in 1937

St. Augustine’s new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center (MEAC), St. Augustine, Florida, will “house offices, education space, a maritime archaeology center, and a new exhibit space.”

Opening this summer, “Legends of the Light will share the stories of the Lighthouse. Visitors will learn about the people that lived and worked here. Climbers and non-climbers alike will enjoy an engaging experience that will give them a greater appreciation for the significance of lighthouses.”

See full story on the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum Keepers’ Blog: Opening Soon! Legends of the Light Exhibit

Historic Images · Keepers · News

Little River Light Station Images Donated to Society Archives

The U.S. Lighthouse Society is pleased to receive a generous donation of these digital images of Little River Light Station, Maine, from Tim Harrison, editor of Lighthouse Digest.

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Lighthouse Digest has an amazing collection of historic images in its archives that have been gathered over the past 25 years. According to Harrison, “The Lighthouse Digest archives are not open to the public; however, low resolution images of many, but not all, of the Lighthouse Digest historic images can be found on their web site at www.LighthouseDigest.com. Depending on the reason, high resolution images can be requested via email, but there may be a small charge to cover the time involved.”

Little River ME 1892 USCGHO (6) copy
This scan of a 1892 photo of Little River Light Station is already part of the Society’s Digital Archives.The original print is part of the USCG Historian Office collections.

The Society has begun developing a database for their growing digital archives of photographs, architectural drawings, and historic documents. This catalog, comprised of a number of different collections, will eventually be available online. In the meantime items from the catalog are available to Society members  for preservation or educational purposes.

We are very pleased that these Little River Light Station images from the Lighthouse Digest will be included in this repository.

Submitted by Tim Harrison and Candace Clifford, May 18, 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.

Exhibits · Fresnel lens · Keepers · News

Restoration of Point Reyes Lighthouse Lens

Bill Anderson and Mike Warren, along with Peter Crook (not pictured), have been trained in maintaining the lens at Point Reyes. They are part of a team that the park calls the Lighthouse Corps. All photos by Candace Clifford

On April 18th I had the pleasure of visiting the Point Reyes Light Station in Point Reyes National Seashore located on the Pacific Coast 35 miles north of San Francisco. This special tour was part of the annual Council of American Maritime Museums conference hosted by the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the first-order lens in situ. Volunteer Keepers Mike Warren and Bill Anderson were on hand to welcome us to the site, and we had the unusual priviledge of watching the lens rotate on its chariot wheels for several minutes.

Although funds were appropriated for a lighthouse at Point Reyes in 1854, disputes over title of the land dragged on for 15 years. In that period over three-quarters of a million dollars worth  of ships and cargo was lost from shipwrecks on that point.

The Barbier & Fenestre apparatus was manufactured in Paris in 1867. It has been in the tower since the light was established in 1870. The lens was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the National Park Service when the light was automated in the 1970s.

Point Reyes CA 2017 Bill Anderson winds clockwork JCC
Bill Anderson winds clockwork
Weights that drive the clockwork mechanism. Keepers had to wind these weights every two hours and twenty minutes when the light was active.

According to Carola DeRooy, Museum Program Manager for the Seashore, “The National Park Service has funded a multi-million dollar restoration project for the lighthouse, lens and clockworks, and fog signal building, as well as accessibility improvements and new exhibits at the entire site. We have been in the planning stages for 2 years and the work will be starting in the fall. The tower’s roof is being replaced, so the lens and clockworks have to be removed at the beginning of the project and conservation work done while it’s out.”

A bullseye, broken in a recent earthquake, will be repaired during the restoration.

A complete condition assessment will be undertaken to see what additional repairs are necessary to the lens, chariot wheels, and clockwork. After the conservation is completed, the lens will be re-assembled as an interpretive display in the tower. It is hoped that the lens will be operated for paid “behind the scenes” tours that would help fund its maintenance.

The restoration is expected to take a year, and the park will try, with safety considerations in mind, to keep the site accessible as much as possible. The lighthouse itself will have scaffolding all around it and will likely be closed until building repairs are completed.

Currently, the lighthouse stairs are open to the public Fridays through Mondays. See the park’s visitor information for details on times the lens room is open and links to more information.

The building just below the lighthouse still belongs to the Coast Guard and the current aids to navigation (light and fog horn) are on the roof of that building.

Submitted by U.S. Lighthouse Historian Candace Clifford, May 5, 2017.

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please 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.

Keepers · News · Research

Lighthouse Service Employees Drafted for Service in the Civil War

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National Archives, Record Group 26, Entry 24 “Letters Received from District Engineers and Inspectors, ca. 1853 – 1900” (Letterbook 170)

Mrs. Henry Schmuck became keeper of the North Point Light Station in Maryland in 1864, not because her keeper husband died, but because he was drafted. On September 24, 1864, 5th District Inspector Hugh Y. Purviance in Baltimore wrote that “Henry Schmuck, keeper of North Point Lighthouses, has been drafted in the service of the United States; please notify me if he comes within order No. 28, issued by the Provost Marshal General. The keeper is required to report on September 26 in the District Provost Marshal’s Office. He is a valuable man to the Department, and . . . his exemption would no doubt advance its interests.”

On September 27, 1864, Inspector Purviance wrote “relative to the keeper of North Point Light House, who was to report the next day to the district provost marshal tomorrow for duty.” If you should not succeed in procuring his release, I would recommend the transfer of the light to his wife—they are both worthy people and have an interesting little family.”

Mrs. Henry Schmuck succeeded her husband as keeper in October 1864.

Was it common for lighthouse employees to be drafted? It’s fairly well known that most military officers serving as district lighthouse inspectors and engineers were recalled to active duty during the Civil War and the Light-House Board struggled to find civilians to perform their duties.

In her research on the Lighthouse Service in the Civil War, Society member and author Mary Louise Clifford has found a few references to this issue. In most cases it appears that the Light-House Board asked for, and received, exemptions to the draft for their employees.

In December 1863 Inspector Purviance had reported that C.M. Netherwood, the Mate of the Lighthouse and Buoy Tender Chase had been recently drafted into the military service. Commodore Purviance recommended that if possible, he be exempted because it would be extremely difficult to replace him. “Seamen employed on board the Revenue Cutters have heretofore been exempted and as the Revenue and Lighthouse Establishment are similar, it is respectfully recommended that Mr. Netherwood be relieved from the operation of the draft.”

In July 1864 6th District Acting Lighthouse Inspector C. O. Boutelle reported that Mr. Frank M. Bourne, Master of the light vessel stationed at Martins Industry at the entrance to Port Royal, South Carolina, has been drafted at New Bedford, Massachusetts. Mr. Boutelle recommended that his exemption be obtained on the ground of the necessities of the public service. Two days later the Secretary of War reported the discharge from military duty of F. M. Bourne, master of the Martins Industry Light Vessel.

Acting Engineer and Inspector Max Bonzano in New Orleans was drafted. He wrote to Major General V.P. Banks, Commanding Department of the Gulf, on May 4, 1865: “I would respectfully beg leave to submit to your notice that I am in the service of the US Light-House Board, as their engineer and inspector for the 8th and 9th Districts, embracing the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from St. Marks, FL, to the Rio Grande, and that I am specially charged with the reconstruction of the various aids to navigation and the supervision of the service of the lights. As the service which I render in this capacity being directly useful to the Army and Navy, I venture to request respectfully that you may be please exempt me from duty under the draft.” Fortunately the war ended soon after this letter was written and Bonzano continued rebuilding the light stations along the Gulf coast until 1868.

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National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 5 (NC-63) “Records of the Seventh & Eighth Light-House Districts (Key West, Mobile & New Orleans)” Volume 118

Does anyone have other examples of lighthouse keepers being drafted into service during the Civil War?

Submitted by Mary Louise Clifford, April 12, 2017. Ms. Clifford’s sources include correspondence from Entries 1, 5, 20, 24, 106, in National Archives Record Group 26.

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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.

Keepers · News · Research

Growing Vegetables at Point Wilson Light Station

Next week we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States entering into World War I. On April 6, 1917, the U.S. Coast Guard came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy. The Lighthouse Service was not yet part of the Coast Guard, so President Woodrow Wilson ordered “transfer for temporary use, of certain lighthouse tenders to the War Department and Navy Department.” In December 1918, it was reported that “nearly all of the lighthouse tenders and a number of other units with a total of 1,132 persons, have been serving with the Navy Department, and at the same time continuing the work of maintaining the aids to navigation.” [Source 1918 Annual Report reproduced in the Lighthouse Service Bulletin.]

Although lighthouse keepers did not perform military duties, they were encouraged to cultivate gardens as part of a national effort. Often called “war gardens” (and later during World War II, “victory gardens”), these gardens reduced the pressures the war put on the food supply and were considered a way of supporting the war effort on the home front.

garden article
Article from May 1, 1917, issue of the Lighthouse Service Bulletin urging lighthouse keepers to cultivate gardens.

Keeper William J. Thomas reported on the the vegetables he raised at Point Wilson Light Station near Port Townsend, Washington, in a letter to the 17th District Inspector on October 12, 1917:

Have sent you to day per Parcel Post a sample of some of the vegetables I raised on the Station here. Peas, Potatoes, Carrots, Lettuce, Garlic & Squash do well but Tomatoes, Cabbage, Turnips are a failure. Beans fairly well; after planting four times–have 4 gallons of Beans Salted & 2 Gallons canned. The yield was good but of course small quantity as space was limited. Early Onions & Lettuce was splendid and gave Heather [the lighthouse tender] some for their mess. [Source: National Archives, Record Group 26, Entry 50, “Correspondence of the Bureau of Lighthouses, 1911-39”]

A photo documenting some the vegetables grown in the sand around Point Wilson Light Station by Keeper Thomas was found among the photos of Point Wilson in 26-LG collection at the National Archives.

The photo, taken by 17th District Clerk T.J. Zimmerman, is entitled “Vegetables Grown by Wm. J. Thomas, Keeper” and shows two potatoes, a parsnip, a clove of garlic and a carrot. Photo dated October 16, 1917, from the National Archives.
Point Wilson Light Station in March 2017. The station can be viewed in Fort Worden State Park. Photo by Candace Clilfford
Point Wilson’s siren fog signals in 1923. (There were two in case one failed.) National Archives 26-LG-62-39
The fourth order lens with its three red panels was manufactured by Sattter, Lemonnier et Cie A Paris. When active it was a fixed white characteristic varied by a red flash every 20 seconds. Today the active light is produced by the VRB 25 on the outside railing and has a characteristic of alternating red or white flash every 5 seconds. Photo by Candace Clifford, 2017

William Thomas served as principal keeper at Point Wilson until 1925. He and his assistant maintained a first-class siren fog signal and a fourth-order lens. The lens with its three red panels was manufactured by Sautter, Lemonnier et Cie, Paris, France. [Source: Classical Lenses in the U.S.] During Thomas’s tenure it was a fixed white characteristic varied by a red flash every 20 seconds. Today the lens is a static display and the active light is produced by a modern VRB 25 on the outside railing with a characteristic of alternating red or white flash every 5 seconds. Photo by Candace Clifford, 2017.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, March 27, 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.

Keepers · Lifesaving Service · News

Celebrating Ida Lewis

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Ida Lewis. National Archives photo 26-LG-69-60

Today is Ida Lewis’s 175th birthday. Google has marked the occasion with a google doodle. Ida was famous in her day for her numerous lifesaving rescues at Lime Rock Light Station in Newport, Rhode Island. She received a gold lifesaving medal in 1881 and Lime Rock was renamed in her honor in 1924.

Idawalley Zorada Lewis, called Ida, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1842. Her father, Captain Hosea Lewis, was a coast pilot whose health was declining. In 1853 he became the first keeper of nearby Lime Rock beacon on a tiny island a third of a mile from the shore of Newport. At first there was only a temporary lantern and a rough shed that provided shelter when the keeper was on the island in bad weather. Lewis’s family remained in the old part of Newport until 1857, when a Greek Revival building with a hip roof was constructed on the island. Lewis moved his family into the lighthouse when Ida, his eldest child, was 15.

Hosea Lewis had been at Lime Rock less than four months when he was stricken by a disabling stroke. Like many wives and daughters of lighthouse keepers before and after, Ida expanded her domestic duties, now increased by the care of her invalid father and a seriously ill sister, to include the care of the light—filling the lamp with oil at sundown and again at midnight, trimming the wick, and extinguishing the light at dawn. All these responsibilities precluded further formal education for Ida.

Since Lime Rock was completely surrounded by water, the only way to reach the mainland was by boat. In the mid-nineteenth century it was highly unusual for a woman to handle a boat, but Ida, the oldest of four children, rowed her siblings to school every weekday and fetched needed supplies from the town. The wooden boat was heavy, but she became very skillful in handling it. (An article in Harper’s Weekly, written after Ida had made several daring rescues, debated whether it was “feminine” for women to row boats, but concluded that none but a “donkey” would consider it “unfeminine” to save lives.) Ida was also reputed to be the best swimmer in all Newport.

Lime Rock Light Station was renamed Ida Lewis Rock in 1924. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office
In 1924 the Rhode Island legislature officially changed the name of Lime Rock to Ida Lewis Rock. The Lighthouse Service changed the name of the Lime Rock Light Station to the Ida Lewis Rock Light Station—the only such honor ever paid to a keeper. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Ida’s skill at the oars was regularly tested. During her first year at Lime Rock, four young men who were out sailing nearly drowned. One of them had foolishly shimmied up the mast and rocked the boat to tease his companions. The boat capsized, and four boys who couldn’t swim clung to the overturned hull, shouting for help. Ida heard them and rowed to their rescue. In their terror, they almost dragged her overboard, but she pulled all four over the stern into her boat and returned them to land. This was only the first of a number of rescues that later made Ida famous.

harpers
Because of her many rescues, Ida Lewis became the best-known light keeper of her day. During her 54 years on Lime Rock, Ida is credited with saving 18 lives, although unofficial reports suggest the number may have been as high as 25. Tales of Ida Lewis’s skill and courage spread so widely that both President Ulysses S. Grant and Vice President Schuyler Colfax  went to visit her in 1869. Here she is pictured on the cover of Harper’s Weekly for the July 31, 1869, issue. Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Ida and her mother Zorada tended the Lime Rock Light for her father from 1857 until 1872, when he died. Her mother was appointed keeper until 1879, although Ida continued to do the keeper’s work. Then Ida received the official appointment and her own salary ($500 a year). She continued at her post until her own death in 1911. On the night of her death the bells on all the vessels anchored in Newport Harbor were tolled in her memory.

On September 28, 1881,William Windom, secretary of the Light-House Board, wrote to Ida Lewis as follows:

I have the honor to transmit herewith the gold medal which has been awarded to you under authority of the Act of Congress of June 20, 1874, in recognition of your services in rescuing from drowning at the peril of your life, two soldiers belonging to the garrison of Fort Adams.

It appears from the evidence submitted to the Department in this connection, that on February 4th last, these men were crossing between Lime Rock light-house and the fort and the ice, being dangerously weak and rotten, gave way under their feet, and let them in. Hearing their cries for help, you ran from the light-house with a rope, one end of which you flung to them and standing upon the ice, in imminent danger of its giving way beneath you, and also of being dragged into the water, both men having hold of the line, you succeeded in pulling them out, one after the other. The rescue of one you effected entirely unaided; the second man you hauled from the broken ice, with the help of your brother, who arrived at the spot in time to render this assistance.

It is the testimony of the rescued men, and of the several eye-witnesses, that in this act you placed your life in great peril.

The papers before the Department in this case, cite the instances of no less than thirteen persons saved by you from drowning, at dates anterior to this occurrence, and it is stated that there are many more who do not appear in the record. These deeds have won for you a national distinction, and it is peculiarly appropriate that you should receive the national life-saving medal in commemoration of your brave acts as a life-saver, while it is an occasion for added satisfaction that such a memorial of unquestionable heroism should have been won by a woman. (Source: National Archives, Record Group 26, Letterbook 553.)

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The Ida Lewis Yacht Club now occupies the lighthouse. 2013 photo by Candace Clifford

In 1927 the Bureau of Lighthouses removed the lens from the lantern and placed an automated beacon on a skeleton tower in front of the lighthouse. This light continued in service until 1963, when it was deactivated by the Coast Guard. Later the Newport Yacht Club bought the lighthouse and obtained permission from the Coast Guard to put a light back in the old lantern and maintain it as a private aid to navigation. Although adaptively used by the yacht club (and renamed the Ida Lewis Yacht Club), the building is virtually unaltered from the time that Ida Lewis lived there.

In 1995 the Coast Guard launched the first of a series of new keeper-class 175-foot coastal buoy tenders and named it Ida Lewis.

Submitted by Candace Clifford using excerpts from Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers (Alexandria, Virginia: Cypress Communications, 2013), February 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 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.