News · Research

Two Steps Every Researcher Should Take

Most of the lighthouse records are in the downtown D.C. National Archives with photos and drawings at the College Park, Maryland, facility. This is a useful article for planning your research trip. The Society has more tips on their website at


Every time I hear a story about a researcher spending money to travel to a National Archives facility only to find out the records they seek aren’t at that location, are unavailable for research, or that the reference staff are unable to assist the research in the short travel window they have available, I cringe. This is a very frustrating scenario, but it luckily it can be avoided by following these two easy steps:

Search the National Archives Catalog

Go to the National Archives Catalog and search for your research topic. If you’re having trouble finding relevant results, try narrowing your search with the refine options on the left side of the screen or by conducting an advanced search. Of course, if you have any questions about how to use the Catalog, please contact the National Archives Catalog staff.

Once you’ve found records that interest you and you…

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News · Research

U.S. Lighthouse Society In Search of New Home for Library

Current Situation: The United States Lighthouse Society (USLHS) Library, officially named the “Unites States Lighthouse Society Wayne Wheeler Library,” currently occupies about 200 linear feet of shelf space. (At this time the Society is only interested in transferring its books, but would also consider including its photo and document collection if circumstances warrant.) We anticipate two more significant book collections to be added to the current library, resulting in about 400 total linear feet. Our current facility in Hansville, Washington, will not allow us to accommodate this expanded library. Furthermore, the remote location of Hansville does not make the library readily available to potential users.

USLHS is therefore conducting a nation-wide search to find a suitable home for the library.

Preferred Library Considerations:

  1. Climate control, fire and intrusion detection systems.
  2. Professionally trained staff.
  3. Non-lending research library.
  4. Accessible location with parking and good public transportation.
  5. Maritime and/or technical focused collections.
  6. Open to the public on a regular basis (can be by appointment)

Conditions of Library Transfer:

  1. USLHS library will be a long-term transfer, but ownership of the library will remain with USLHS. Length of term of transfer is negotiable.
  2. Other than the two collection additions mentioned above, occasional small additions to the library will be permitted to the collection.
  3. Any duplicates between the hosting library and the USLHS collection must remain in USLHS collection.
  4. USLHS library will be so identified and kept together in one contiguous section of the hosting library.
  5. An annual hosting fee, if necessary, is negotiable.
  6. USLHS will pay for all costs related to the move of library to the hosting library.
  7. USLHS staff will be available to help with answering lighthouse-related research requests.

Who we are:

The United States Lighthouse Society is a nonprofit historical and educational organization dedicated to saving and sharing the rich maritime legacy of American lighthouses and supporting lighthouse preservation throughout the nation.

The USLHS Wayne Wheeler Library includes many 19th century publications, including Annual Reports of the U.S. Light-House Board, Light Lists, and technical publications related to optics and fog signals. Secondary sources include guidebooks, popular and scholarly work, and some periodicals. An inventory of the collection is available upon request. Any duplicates will be removed and disposed of before transmission. Although the collection deals primarily with the United States, books on international lighthouses are also included.

USLHS is in the process of creating a large digital archive for lighthouse research. Most of it is derived from primary sources. The archive will be made available online through the Society’s website <>. This archive, along with the physical library, will bring together vast resources for research on lighthouses, which in turn will produce more books and articles that would be available in one central location.

For more information or expressions of interest, please email Candace Clifford at

Submitted by Candace Clifford, USLHS Historian, June 1, 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

Queries · Research · Small Craft · Society Members

Researching Small Craft

Small Craft for Lighthouse and Buoy-Tending Work;
A Lesser-Known Part of U.S. Lighthouse Service History
by Timothy Dring; CDR, USNR-Retired

shad fishing boat
Oar/sail powered Albemarle Sound shad fishing boat type typically assigned to the screwpile lighthouses of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. (Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

While there has been a lot of very fruitful historical research on the history of the lighthouses and personnel that have served the United States, much less is known about one aspect of U.S. Lighthouse Service history; that of their use of small craft for service at lighthouses and for buoy tending in protected waters. I hope to rectify this shortcoming in the research I am now engaged in, having already done this for the small craft used by the former U.S. Life-Saving Service and early Coast Guard. To achieve success in this effort, however, I need whatever assistance is available from the members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, as the official record of these small craft is very sparse among the documents held by either the National Archives or the U.S. Coast Guard. My objective is to create as complete a descriptive record as possible of all the small craft used by the Lighthouse Service from the 1800s up to and through the period of its amalgamation into the Coast Guard.

In U.S. Lighthouse Service use, these small craft fell into three broad categories: 1) those assigned to individual lighthouses for use by the keeper; 2) those assigned to individual lighthouse tenders or lightships; and 3) those used by either depots or other support facilities for the purposes of tending the smaller buoys and fixed minor lights within a district. Within each of these categories, as you might expect, is the distinction between those boats that were only powered by oars and/or sails, and those that were powered by some type of marine engine.

Lighthouse Station Boats

swampscott rowing dory
Swampscott rowing dory of the type used at many New England region light stations. (Photograph courtesy of Jim Claflin)

With relatively few exceptions, most major lighthouses/light stations were assigned some type of small craft for use by the keeper, either for resupply trips, or occasionally for local rescue work. Initially, and continuing well into the early 1900s, these boats were of a size and design that allowed easy use by a single person as crew (i.e., the keeper), which meant that they were typically smaller 14- to 16-foot-long rowing skiffs or dories that may also have carried a small sailing rig. The type of small boat assigned to a lighthouse was usually based on the small boat types typically in use in the local area, such that a lighthouse keeper would already have some familiarity with its use. In addition, most boats assigned to lighthouses were sourced from the local commercial boatyards available in each district, rather than being supplied from a central source.

Many of the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina area screwpile type lighthouses were assigned a larger, combination rowing/sailing boat of a design that was derived from the famous Albemarle Sound shad fishing boat.

motor launch
22ft. long motor launch of a type assigned to a Great Lakes area lighthouse. (Photograph courtesy of Steve and Grace Truman)

Once reliable lightweight marine type engines were available in the early 1900s, most of the light stations were re-equipped with a motorboat; again of a design that was developed and built locally within each lighthouse district, and one that was usually larger than the older rowing/sailing boats.

Other than a few inspection reports for each lighthouse that included a description of the assigned small boats, very little documentation of these boats exists today. It is hoped that Lighthouse Society members may be able to provide information on the type of boat(s) assigned to their favorite lighthouses, especially if a photograph of the boat is available for sharing.

Lighthouse Tender/Lightship Boats

Monomoy type
23ft. long Monomoy type pulling surfboat assigned to tender Sassafras

Unlike the smaller sized boats typically assigned to a light station, those assigned to a lighthouse tender or a lightship were larger and more seaworthy. They served two purposes: one being its use as a work boat when transferring personnel and supplies to and from a lighthouse or for servicing a buoy, and the other its possible use as a lifeboat for the tender’s crew. As with the boats assigned to light stations, lighthouse tender/lightship boats started out as solely powered by oars and/or sail, with conversion over to or replacement by motorized models starting in the early 1900’s. Some tenders were also assigned a small steam-powered launch that could be operated independently in sheltered areas for the servicing of buoys and minor lights.

24ft. long motor cargo boat of the type assigned to tenders

Buoy-Tending Boats

Until the 1920s, the Lighthouse Service did not utilize any small craft that were designed and built specifically for tending the smaller lighted and unlighted buoys that were typically used to mark harbors and inland waterways. Instead, the service preferred to use the smaller harbor lighthouse tenders. This changed by the 1920s, and for the first time the service placed into service small boats (typically less than 60ft. in length) that were designed and built to service small buoys, including an A-frame derrick and well deck for the purposes of lifting buoys on and off the boat for servicing. These were day boats, i.e., without a permanent crew and with no accommodations for overnight operation. These buoy boats were usually assigned to the nearest depot, but were also sometimes assigned to a tender or to a larger light station that also doubled as a local buoy depot. By the World War II years, these boats were expanded in size and capability to provide more seaworthiness and, in some cases, onboard accommodations for the assigned crew.

38ft. buoy boat assigned to the buoy depot at Navesink Twin Lights in New Jersey. (Photograph courtesy of the Twin Lights Historical Society)

During the Lighthouse Service era, nearly all of the service’s boats were built by private commercial boat builders under contract either to an individual lighthouse district, or to the general depot at Tompkinsville, Staten Island, New York. This changed following the absorption of the Lighthouse Service into the Coast Guard in 1939, after which most of the service’s small craft were built by the Coast Guard’s Curtis Bay Depot in Maryland.

Unfortunately, nearly all of the construction and assignment records for light station, tender, or buoy boats have been lost or destroyed. Trying to reconstruct this part of the history is, therefore, very challenging, and depends very much on what documentary or photographic information is available from sources other than either the National Archives or the Coast Guard. This article serves as an appeal to the reader to assist in this research by sharing whatever you may have related to this topic, such as light station inspection reports, logbook entries, or photographs that may describe or show the small boats that were used at these Lighthouse Service facilities. Your assistance in this endeavor will be greatly appreciated.

Contact Tim via his email <>.

Submitted by Tim Dring, President, U.S. Life-Saving Service Heritage Association and U.S. Lighthouse Society member, May 4, 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

Keepers · News · Research

Lighthouse Service Employees Drafted for Service in the Civil War

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.

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

News · Research

Design of Cape Lookout Lighthouse’s Daymark

Cape Lookout NC Daymark ca 1873 NA RG 26 LB 327 lores
Peter C. Hains’ sketch for the Cape Lookout daymark was found in National Archives Record Group 26, Letterbook 327. (The letterbook was damaged in the 1922 fire at the Commerce Department.)

The above sketch was submitted by Fifth District Lighthouse Engineer Major Peter C. Hains to Major George H. Elliot, Engineering Secretary of the U.S. Light-House Board, to make the Cape Lookout tower distinguishable during the day time from nearby coastal towers that were similar in construction. The following letter, dated February 17, 1873, accompanied the sketch:

Referring to your letter. . . relative to painting Cape Lookout tower to better serve as a daymark, I have to say that this object may be accomplished in a very satisfactory manner by coloring it with black and white diagonal checkers as shown on the enclosed sketch which represents the different views of that system, as it will appear from several points of the compass. In view of the fact, however, that Body’s Island is distant some 85 nautical miles in a direct line and considerably greater distance measured along the meanderings of the coastline, perhaps you would prefer to color it with horizontal rings or bands? The background need not interfere with any arrangement of colors, as it is sky or white sand hills. . . . I would prefer the black-and-white checkers for this tower as it is will render the system of coloring uniform; say, commencing at Body’s Island, black and white horizontal bands; then Hatteras, spiral bands; and Cape Lookout, diagonal checkers. . . .

Major Elliot’s concept was approved by the Board and the towers where given their iconic markings by June of 1873.

1873 NTM
A Notice to Mariners was issued to alert mariners to the change in daymark.
2001 photo by Candace Clifford

The Cape Lookout tower retains its unique daymark to this day although with fewer “checkers” than were in the original sketch.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, April 1, 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

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

News · Research · Society Members · Weather Bureau

Coastal Storm Warning Display at Whitehead Island, Maine

You may have read the recent sidebar on the storm warning signal towers at Cape Elizabeth in the “From the Archives” column in the last issue of the 2016 Keeper’s Log. Society Member David Gamage provided the following article on the storm warning signal tower at Whitehead Island, Maine. He also provided a copy of the Instructions for Storm Warning Displaymen for the Society’s Archives. 

The U.S. Weather Bureau provided a storm-warning display at Whitehead Island, Maine, following the installation of a telephone line from the mainland to the White Head Life-Saving Station in 1884. This phone enabled the communication necessary for timely display of the storm warnings.

Whitehead Island is located at the entrance to the Muscle Ridge Channel, a favored route in and out of the West Penobscot Bay for sailing vessels and steamships. The 1903 U. S. Coast Pilot listed seven other Maine storm signal sites at Eastport, West Quoddy Head, Machiasport, Bangor, Marshall Point Light, Boothbay Harbor, and Portland.

Storm warning signal tower and lookout tower on Whitehead Island. Photo courtesy David Gamage

The Lighthouse Service approved a display flagpole near the Whitehead lighthouse at the eastern end of the island in 1887. In 1903 the Weather Bureau received permission to erect a storm warning display tower at the site of this display pole. The new iron skeletal tower was about 56 feet high and had a 24-foot telescoping metal pole extending upward from the tower apex. The top of this pole was 80 feet above the tower base and 155 feet above sea level. Attached to the pole near the apex was a lantern hoist sheave mount and at the bottom was the lantern-hoisting drum. Lanterns were suspended on a 5/16-inch cable. A metal building to store flags, lanterns and lantern fuel sat at the tower base.

A displayman employed by the Weather Bureau was responsible for hoisting and lowering the warning flags as needed and for maintaining the equipment.The displayman also maintained a lens lanterns which, when lit, produced a night signal. Instructions to hoist or to lower the storm warning flags and lanterns were received by telephone from Rockland; these instructions having been sent to Rockland by telegraph from the regional Weather Bureau office in Portland.

The displayman was required to submit a monthly record of wind signal displays to the Weather Bureau. This report included observations as to whether the actual wind direction and strength differed from the forecast as well as notations as to benefits derived by shipping interests, particularly for severe storms and hurricanes.

The first known displayman at Whitehead was Charles Shea, son of the life-saving station keeper. Shea also served as an alternate surfman at the life-saving station. Shea was the displayman until his death in September 1905. His widow Ida Shea replaced him.

Later the Whitehead principal light keeper became the displayman. Keeper Elmer Reed assumed the extra duties of hoisting the weather signals at Whitehead Light on July 27, 1917, for $120 a year. The Weather Bureau employed subsequent head keepers for this service until the early 1930s when the Weather Bureau discontinued the Whitehead Island storm signal display.

Another view of the Whitehead Island light station with the storm warning signal tower in the background. Photo courtesy of David Gamage

When mariners saw the Weather Bureau storm warning signals, they knew to wait out the storm in port or, when at sea, to seek a place of refuge. Unquestionably, these signals were of great benefit in terms of saving life and property.

Submitted by David Gamage, March 3, 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