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

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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.

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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 <timdringcghist@gmail.com>.

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 candace@uslhs.org.

Awards · News · Society Members

Ralph Eshelman Receives Ross Holland Award

Mike Vogel presents Ross Holland award to Ralph Eshelman 2017 JCC lores
Ralph Eshelman receives Ross Holland award from Mike Vogel, chair of the American Lighthouse Council, during the recent U.S. Lighthouse Society Board meeting.

Established by the American Lighthouse Council to recognize truly exceptional contributions by an individual or group, the Holland Award is the major national honor bestowed by the lighthouse preservation community. It is named for Francis Ross Holland, Jr., who received the initial Distinguished Service Award that was to henceforth carry his name.

Ralph Eshelman receives Holland award 2017 JCC lores
Ralph Eshelman with Ross Holland award.

Dr. Eshelman was presented the Holland Award during a recent U.S. Lighthouse Society Board meeting. Mike Vogel, chair of the American Lighthouse Council, read the following citation:

Ralph Eshelman got involved in lighthouse preservation in 1975 when, a year after he was appointed the first director of the Calvert Marine Museum, he led the team that moved Maryland’s 1883 Drum Point Lighthouse ashore for an accurate and meticulous three-year restoration and interpretation effort. He has been deeply involved in the movement ever since, making exceptional contributions to a lighthouse community that has benefitted deeply from his expertise, advice and leadership.

A geologist, paleontologist, polar tour and expedition guide, lecturer and the author of five books on the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Theater, Ralph has served as a trustee of the Maryland Historical Trust and in 1996 wrote that organization’s Lighthouse Preservation and Interpretation Plan. He also authored a context theme study and National Register nomination for 17 light stations in Maryland, and at the national level served as historian on several federal assessment teams that surveyed 31 historic lighthouses throughout the United States, co-authored the Maritime Heritage of the United States National Historic Landmark Theme Context Study for Lighthouses for the National Park Service, and prepared National Landmark nominations for three masonry lighthouses including Cape Hatteras.

Ralph was the historian for the team that wrote the Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook for the National Park Service and Coast Guard in 1997, and that year was one of three lighthouse leaders who formed the National Lighthouse Museum Steering Committee. He served as the committee’s president as it developed the national museum concept and also formed the American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee, later renamed the American Lighthouse Council. He remained active in both of those organizations, serving as a vice president of the developing lighthouse museum.

A past president of the Council of American Maritime Museums and founding vice president of the National Maritime Preservation Task Force of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Ralph is an owner of a cultural resource management consultancy firm, a consultant to the National Park Service and the founding principal of a lighthouse preservation firm. A veteran member of the United States Lighthouse Society’s board of directors, he has played a leading role in the development of the Society’s Strategic Plan and grants program, and most recently has led the Society’s assessment of the Alcatraz Lighthouse in California as a step toward preservation and interpretation of that light in cooperation with state and federal agencies. His expertise, invaluable advice and outstanding leadership is recognized by this presentation of the H. Ross Holland Award, the lighthouse preservation movement’s highest lifetime honor.

Ralph Eshelman award at 2017 USLHS Board Mtg JCC lores
U.S. Lighthouse Society Board members Henry Gonzalez, Bill Merlin, Tom Tag, Ralph Eshelman, Mike Vogel, Wayne Wheeler, and Elinor DeWire during the award presentation on March 18, 2017.

Submitted by Candace Clifford with citation provided by Mike Vogel, March 21, 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.

Lighthouses in Art · News · Society Members

Mystery at Eilean Mor Lighthouse, Scotland

coffin-road
Coffin Road by Peter May

British author Peter May has written another thrilling murder mystery in which the Eilean Mor Lighthouse has a prominent role. The lighthouse is located on an island of the same name in the Flannan Isles off the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. In December of 1900 all three lightkeepers vanished without a trace. In the novel, titled Coffin Road, the main character in the novel regularly visits the island, supposedly writing a book.

For those who went on the lighthouse trip to the Outer Hebrides in 2015, trip leaders Chris and Janet Brookes introduced us to Peter May by giving everyone a copy of another murder mystery, The Blackhouse, so participants could get a sense of life in the Outer Hebrides.

Coffin Road was published in Great Britain in 2016 by Quercus, ISBN 978-1-78429-313-0.

Submitted by Dick Richardson, U.S. Lighthouse Society member, 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.

News · Society Members · Tours

Isle of Man Lighthouses

Douglas Head Lighthouse
Douglas Head Lighthouse, Isle of Man. Photo by Skip Sherwood

Last July Skip Sherwood led a U.S. Lighthouse Society tour through Wales and the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom. Skip wrote an article about this trip that was featured in the Northern Lighthouse Board‘s magazine The Journal (Christmas 2016).  The NLB has granted us permission to share it with you. Here is the article link: U.S. Lighthouse Society Tours: Isle of Man Lighthouses.

Skip Sherwood at Point Bonita Lighthouse, California
Skip Sherwood at Point Bonita Lighthouse, California

Skip has been volunteering for the U.S. Lighthouse Society since 2007. He and his wife, Mary Lee, have been responsible for developing and leading many lighthouse tours in addition to processing memberships and contributing to the ongoing development of the Society’s website and Passport Club. Skip oversees the Society’s increasingly popular Passport Program and its 19 regional volunteers. Through the program’s website and periodic newsletters, over 3,500 Club members are kept up to date on the availability of stamps at over 450 participating locations.

A big thank you to Skip and Mary Lee for all there wonderful work on behalf of the Society!

For more tour photos, visit http://uslhs.org/tours/photo-albums-new/wales-2016

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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 · Society Members

Presidential Appointments of Lighthouse Keepers

The earliest lighthouse keeper appointments in the new nation were approved by President Washington. The practice continued with Thomas Jefferson but as the number of lighthouses grew, keeper appointments became the responsibility of the Secretary of the Treasury.(The Treasury Department administered lighthouses from 1790 to 1901). There are some exceptions however. Apparently John and Rebecca Flaherty had some sort of connection to President John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa, and did not hesitate to use it.

According to Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers, Rebecca Flaherty wrote Mrs. Adams asking for her influence in seeking a keeper appointment at Thomas Point, Maryland, for her husband John, a War of 1812 veteran. Eventually in the spring of 1826 John received an appointment as keeper of Dry Tortugas Lighthouse in Florida. The Flahertys did not fare well at that isolated station and soon requested a switch with the keeper at Sand Key, a station nine miles from Key West. The request was granted by President Adams in the letter below.

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Letter dated January 18, 1827, from Stephen Pleasonton to President John Quincy Adams requesting his approval of the keeper appointments at Dry Tortugas and Sand Key Lighthouses, Florida. National Archives, Record Group 26, Entry 17I “Correspondence Relating to the Appointment of Lighthouse Keepers, 1801 -1852.”

As you can see, President Adams noted his approval directly on the letter, not an uncommon practice, although the presidents generally just “initialed” their approval.

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President Adam’s approval extracted from letter above.

I did not see this letter when researching Women Who Kept the Lights, but it came to light when gathering some material for U.S. Lighthouse Society member Neil Hurley, who researches Florida light keepers and is currently writing a book on the vessels and towers that have lit Carysfort Reef in the Florida Keys.

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2016 photo of Carysfort Reef Lighthouse showing both the old tower and its new replacement tower in the distance. Courtesy Neil Hurley.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, January 8, 2o17

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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 · Preservation · Society Members

Graves Lighthouse Restoration

graves-ma-lantern-skylight-2016-courtesy-dave-waller
Dave Waller installs refurbished skylight. Photo courtesy Dave Waller

Two readers sent me the recent Boston Globe article on the preservation of The Graves Lighthouse, located nine miles offshore at the mouth of Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. The incredible restoration of this 113-foot tower is the vision of lifetime U.S. Lighthouse Society member Dave Waller, who purchased the property at public auction in 2013.

Installation of first-order lens panels into positions that will not interfere with the modern solar-powered optic. The panels are from various Chance Bros. lenses that were primarily used in Australia. Photo courtesy Dave Waller
Chance Bros. lens panels from various Australian lighthouses were installed into positions that will not interfere with the modern solar-powered optic. (Click on photo to see full story.) Photo courtesy Dave Waller

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the modern optic as an active aid to navigation. The light’s original first-order lens manufactured by Barbier, Bernard and Turenne, Paris, is now part of the undisplayed collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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Mike Sylvester cleans and points the granite tower. Photo courtesy of Dave Waller

The 1905 tower is constructed of granite quarried from Cape Ann, Massachusetts. The interior is lined with brick.

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Newly made authentic oak windows and mahogany handrails along with modern 24-volt electric lights brighten up the stairwells. Photo courtesy Dave Waller
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Nelson Metal Fabricators install a replacement copper smokestack based on the original 1903 plans. Photo courtesy of Dave Waller

Dangerous ledges and the lack of a dock make this lighthouse inaccessible to the general public; however, an extensive website was created to keep the public informed of the project.

Photos submitted by Dave Waller, January 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.