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.

 

Event · Lighthouse Construction · News · Society Members

Ponce Inlet Begins 130th Anniversary Celebration

On November 1, 1887, at about dusk, Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse Principal Keeper William R. Rowlinski climbed the 213 steps of the tall, red brick giant to its lantern room. Rowlinski proceeded to light the five-concentric-wick kerosene lamp to inaugurate the first night of service for what is now known as the Ponce DeLeon Inlet Lighthouse. The brilliant, fixed white light blazed forth from the Barbier & Fenestre first-order lens.

About two months before the light’s activation, a Notice to Mariners was issued from the U.S. Light-House Board formally announcing the new light’s presence on the coast atop the 175-foot tower. It took three years to complete the station on that previously dark, 100-mile stretch of coast of East Florida.
Construction drawing courtesy National Archives

In 1970, after more than 80 years of service, the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the station and formulated plans to demolish the structures and use the rubble as an artificial reef. A group of Ponce Inlet residents, alarmed by the potential loss of so much local and national history, formed the Ponce DeLeon Lighthouse Preservation Association, saved the tower and keepers’ residences from the wrecking ball, and has managed and operated the station as an attraction and museum ever since. Restoration continues to this day, and as a result, in 1998 the once dilapidated station was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, one of only 12 historic United States lighthouses to be so honored. Welcoming more than 175,000 visitors each year, the station is acknowledged as one of the best preserved and most representative light stations in the nation.

Ponce DeLeon Inlet, FL, July 2013. Photo by John Mann

Today, that beacon continues to shine as a silent sentinel helping mariners navigate the dangerous Florida coast. In honor of that first lighting, a year-long, 130th Anniversary Celebration, hosted by the Preservation Association, begins with a festive evening on Friday evening, November 10, 2017, at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum .

Submitted by Society Member John F. Mann, Lead Docent, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, August 10, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

Education · Kate's Corner · Lighthouse Construction

KATE’S CORNER #11

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

The earlier lighthouse on Robbins Reef was built of stone, but my tower was built of cast-iron plate. Cast iron became a very useful material in the second half of the 19th century because it was lightweight and watertight. A cast-iron tower could be made in sections, easily transported, and assembled at the site. It could also be taken down, moved, and reassembled. When lighthouses constructed of masonry sank or blew over, having no solid footing, they were often replaced with much lighter cast-iron structures.

A cast-iron tower for Cape Canaveral was begun in 1860, delayed until the end of the Civil War and completed in 1868. In 1894 continued erosion prompted the tower to be disassembled and moved a mile further inland to its present location. Courtesy National Archives

During the Civil War the Confederates took down the cast-iron tower at Bolivar Point in Texas plate by plate. When the war ended, the sections of the tower’s one-inch-thick cast-iron skin were never found, probably having been used to make armaments.

The Boca Grande Rear Range Lighthouse in Florida served as the Delaware Breakwater Rear Range until 1918. When the tower was offered to the various lighthouse districts, the 7th district superintendent claimed it and erected it on Gasparilla Island.

A 191-foot cast-iron, skeletal structure, the tallest of its kind [191 feet], was erected at Cape Charles to guide ships into Chesapeake Bay. Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office
The third tower at Cape Charles, Virginia, was built in 1895, while I was at Robbins Reef. According to the 1893 specifications for the metal work at Cape Charles: “It is to be an iron skeleton structure, surmounted by a service room, a watch room with gallery, and a lantern accessible from below by a spiral stairs and an elevator inclosed in a cast-iron cylinder. The skeleton structure will rest upon eight circular foundation disks, which will be anchored to a concrete foundation and the lower belt of the stair cylinder.  It will be composed of columns, sockets, struts, and tension rods, forming a frustum of a regular octagonal pyramid, bounded at the upper end by an architrave, the latter supporting an octagonal service room, a circular watch room, surrounded by an octagonal gallery and a sixteen-sided lantern.” Are some of these terms new to you?

I wondered how they put the huge 1st-order Fresnel lens into such a tall tower. On June 17, 1895, the lens, which had been sent to Baltimore from the general depot on Staten Island, New York, was taken to the station by the tender Jessamine. A hoisting engine was set up, a mast erected on the watch room gallery, with the necessary pulleys and rigging, and the parts of the lens apparatus were hoisted outside the tower into the lantern, where they were properly arranged and bolted together by lampists—men specially trained to assemble and maintain lamps and lenses.

Information from Clifford, Nineteenth-Century Lights, pp. 23, 195; 1895 Annual Report of the U.S. Light-House Board; David Cipra, Lighthouses, Lightships, and the Gulf of Mexico; National Archives Record Group 287, Box T683

Submitted September 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.