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.

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.

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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 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 candace@uslhs.org.

Historic Images · News · Research

Large National Archives Collection of Lighthouse Photographs Now Available Online

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Morris Island Light Station, South Carolina. National Archives 26-LG-70-73

A huge thank you goes out to the National Archives for making their main collection of lighthouse photos available online! Over 1100 folders of lighthouse images taken between 1855 and 1933 can now be viewed and downloaded from the National Archives digital catalog. A project started several years ago appears to be complete.

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Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota. National Archives 26-LG-89-54

According to the catalog’s description:

Photographs show views of the structures, surrounding areas, shorelines, and depict the living conditions of keepers, their families and of maintenance personnel. There are views showing construction of the buildings and installation of lights; . . .  light structures at forts, . . . memorial lights, lightships; and portraits of keepers (box 69). Most of the photographs are black and white and cyanotypes scattered throughout. They vary in size and most are mounted on cards. . . .  Photographs of miscellaneous and foreign lighthouses are in boxes 69 through 71A.

Those who have worked with 26-LG at the Still Pictures Branch at Archives II, College Park, Maryland, may remember that the condition of the photos prevented scanning of the prints or taking them out of their protective mylar, so having them available online is a real boon to lighthouse researchers. It also protects the originals from continued handling and exposure to harmful light.

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Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, Florida, with lighthouse tender in distance. National Archives 26-LG-69-55

The images are organized geographically so the first box starts with Maine in the 1st Lighthouse District and goes through each district, ending with Alaska and Hawaii in the 19th Lighthouse District. After that there are a number of boxes of miscellaneous photos that include unidentified lighthouses, some of which, our Facebook fans have been helping to identify. Finally a number of foreign lighthouses are filed at the end of the collection.

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1890s construction of the San Bernardino Island Lighthouse in the Philippines. The 26-LG collection includes a number of Philippine lighthouses. National Archives 26-LG-71A-189
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An unidentified light station that most likely does not survive. National Archives 26-LG-70-43

Submitted by Candace Clifford, February 22, 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.

News · Research

Gull Rocks Light Station, Rhode Island

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“Gull Rocks Light Station Newport”, VM013_GF4707, Rhode Island Photograph Collection, Providence Public Library, Providence, RI

I came across these images of Gull Rocks Light Station in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, in the wonderful Rhode Island Collection at the Providence Public Library’s digital library. Both images were captured by William King Covell before and after the change in optic. The above image is dated 1921 and the one below is 1932. I’m not sure I’d ever seen this lighthouse design before!

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“Gull Rocks Light Station Newport”, VM013_GF4708, Rhode Island Photograph Collection , Providence Public Library, Providence, RI

According to Jeremy D’Entremont’s “History of Gull Rocks Light Station, Newport, Rhode Island,” the station was built near Newport in the 1880s. “The lighthouse was a wood A-frame dwelling with two lanterns that traveled on rails through windows at the east and west peaks of the structure. One light was fixed white, the other fixed red. A fog bell and striking apparatus were installed in 1888. . . . In 1928, a single acetylene light on a skeleton tower next to the dwelling replaced the two earlier lights. At this time the keeper at Gull Rocks was also put in charge of Newport Harbor Light at Goat Island.”

The station was automated in 1960 and the dwelling destroyed in 1961. The light on the skeleton tower was discontinued in 1969, soon after the construction of the Newport Bridge. Today, all that remains is the oil house.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, U.S. Lighthouse Society Historian, February 11, 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.

News · Research · Volunteer Opportunities

Want to Help Transcribe Yaquina Head Lighthouse Documents?

Yaquina Head Letter
Example of letter to be transcribed. National Archives, RG 26, Letterbook 311 (click on image to enlarge)

The Friends of Yaquina Lights (FOYL), Newport, Oregon, have discovered a great way to transcribe their historical documents from the National Archives. They are using volunteers to transcribe their collection of historic documents (keeper’s logs, correspondence, etc.) using an online site at fromthepage.com/YaquinaLights. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can volunteer! Accounts at fromthepage.com are free and easy to set up. Successful transcription of this large collection of fascinating (along with the more mundane) will make these historical documents available to the general public.

Submitted by Amy Cauthon, Friends of Yaquina Lights, foyl@yaquinalights.org, February 6, 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.