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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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.

 

Lighthouse Construction · News · Research · Society Members

Lynn and Dave Waller Research Collection for The Graves Lighthouse

Society members Lynn and Dave Waller recently donated their National Archives research findings for the Graves Light Station, Massachusetts, to the Society Archives. Society Director Jeff Gales is delighted with the gift. “Making lighthouse research widely available is the intent of the new Catalog and such an endeavor would not be possible without generous donations such as this.”

This collection consists primarily of U.S. Light-House Board and U.S. Bureau of Lighthouse correspondence and photos available in the National Archives, Washington, D.C. After acquiring the light station in 2013, Dave Waller hired Candace Clifford (now the Society’s historian) to find and copy any National Archives documents relating to the station as part of their overall restoration effort.

One item in the collection is an album of photos pertaining to the station’s 1903-1904 construction. Since the Catalog is not yet available online, you can access the album at The Graves MA 1903-1905 Construction Album NA RG 26 LG 7-49 LDW (lores).)

Graves MA 40th course NA RG 26 LG 7-49
The 40th course of the Graves Lighthouse was laid in 1904. (Note the numbers marked on each stone.) Image part of National Archives photo album 26-LG-7-49 from the Lynn and Dave Waller collection
Stonework completed to 40th course. National Archives image courtesy Lynn and Dave Waller collection

On January 10, Dave reported that he “just got back from the light after dropping off the first work crew of 2018. [The tower is] spectacular looking in the winter light. Today we are finishing up the central heating system and varnishing the gorgeous quarter swan oak wainscoting in the watch room. We started the oil house refurb[ishment] in the fall, but switched to interior work as winter set in.”

Graves MA 2018 oil house LDW lores
Oil house under restoration.  2018 photo courtesy Dave Waller

For more information on the restoration visit The Graves Light Station website.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, January 12, 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.

 

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.