Author Archives: lighthousehistory

Enduring Beacons: Documenting America’s Lighthouses

Happy National Lighthouse Day! To celebrate, I’d like to share an exhibit I put together for the Park View Gallery at Glen Echo Park, Maryland. If you live in the D.C. metro area, the show will be up until August 26, 2017.


The contemporary images are mine; most of the historic images are from the National Archives.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, U.S. Lighthouse Society Historian, August 7, 2017



U.S. Lighthouse Society News


Want to keep up with the latest on lighthouses? Check out U.S. Lighthouse Society News, a new electronic newsletter for the lighthouse community.


As many of you know, I’m now working as the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s historian so I won’t be posting to my original Lighthouse History blog as often. I hope you consider subscribing to this new blog focusing on lighthouse history, preservation, education, and research. Just click on the SUBSCRIBE button in the right-hand column and provide your email address.

Have items of interest to the lighthouse community? Please submit them for consideration to

Thanks for your participation!


Instructions to Light Keepers

Circulars for lighthouse keepers were issued initially through local customs collectors who served as superintendents of lights in their districts. Most instructions concerned tracking the amount of oil used in lighting their lamps. The oil was a very valuable commodity. In 1835 Stephen Pleasonton, who oversaw lighthouses within the Treasury Department from 1820 to 1852, issued the following instructions. His clerk copied them into a volume recording outgoing correspondence now part of the National Archives collection under Record Group 26 Entry 18.



After the U.S. Light-House Board took over the administration of the lighthouses in 1852, the lighthouse service became much more organized and professional, resulting in detailed, multi-paged instructions. The Instructions were updated and expanded almost every decade.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society has digitized many of the Instructions to Light Keepers publications and is making them available on their website as downloadable books. You will notice other useful publications on the same page.

Note that the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association reprinted the 1905 Instructions. It is for sale on their website.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, November 15, 2016

U.S. Lighthouse Society Digitizes Lighthouse Plans

Some of you may be familiar with the finding aid of lighthouse plans in the Cartographic Branch of the National Archives, in College Park, Maryland. More than 20 years ago, the National Archives photographed the main collection of lighthouse plans in Record Group 26 and provided them as letter-sized prints arranged in 3-ring binders. This year, these prints have been scanned by the U.S. Lighthouse Society for their growing digital archives.


In addition to providing important historical information, many of the plans are beautiful drawings. This map of Morris Island, S.C., shows the size of the island that the station once occupied. Today only the tower survives and is surrounded by water.


If you look carefully, you can see the main light station near the top of this map detail. Also note the two beacons and separate keeper’s dwelling for the range lights. The 1883 Light List indicates that the main light was “fixed white” and the beacons “fixed red.” The red range lights marked the “line of range for crossing the bar of the ‘Main Ship’ or ‘Pumpkin Hill’ channel into Charleston Harbor.”


“Plan of Tiling” for Morris Island. Many first-order lighthouses constructed in the 1870s had this type of diamond tiling on the floor of the tower’s ground level.

Below we have an 1876 chart showing the aids to navigation and soundings for navigating Charleston Harbor.


The Society has also digitized the collection of plans on microfilm in Record Group 26. The microfilm is scratched and detail is often lost, but in some cases it provides the only copies of plans no longer available in their original format.

The scans of the finding aid of the main RG 26 lighthouse collection and those on microfilm from the National Archives are available to members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society conducting research at no charge.

The Society previously scanned the plans that ended up in their files. These are  available for browsing on their website along with historical photos and selected Light Lists.

As the Society’s historian, I am pleased to be working with Technical Expert Tom Tag to expand the Society’s digital archives. It is part of the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s mission to support lighthouse history and research and we are creating a central repository of lighthouse information in order to do this. If you have an interest in donating historical documents, plans, or photos to this effort, please contact me at <>.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, October 21, 2016


Celebrating Boston Light’s 300th Anniversary


Boston Light in 2002. Photo by Candace Clifford

As most of you in the lighthouse community know–September 14, 2016, is the 300th anniversary of the establishment of Boston Light on Little Brewster Island. I’m delighted the anniversary is receiving so much media attention. Sally Snowman, Boston Light’s official civilian keeper, has become a celebrity. For those of you who missed it, here is a link to the recent CBS News feature that highlights Sally. For those of you who follow the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s Facebook page, there was an abundance of information to share. (Full disclosure – I now maintain that page.)


Sally Snowman (second from right) and her husband Jim Thomson (far right) served in the USCG Auxiliary when I toured the light station in 2002

In looking at my own archives for Boston Light, I found an interesting February 1939 article in the Lighthouse Service Bulletin (Vol. 5, No. 38). The article reprints portions of the July 20, 1715, Act “for building and maintaining a lighthouse upon Great Brewster (called Beacon Island) at the entrance of the Harbour of Boston.”

Whereas the want of a lighthouse at the entrance of the harbour of Boston hath been a great discouragement to navigation by the loss of lives and estates of several of his majesty’s subjects; for preservation thereof–

Be it enacted by His Excellency the Governor, Council and Representatives in General Court  Assembled, and by the authority of the same.

[Sec. 1] That there be a lighthouse erected at the charge of the province, on the southernmost part of the Great Brewster, called Beacon Island, to be kept lighted from sun setting to sun rising.

[Sec. 2] That from and after the building of said lighthouse, and kindling a light in it, usefull for shipping coming into or going out of the harbour of Boston, or any other harbour within Massachusetts Bay there shall be paid to the receiver of impost, by the master of all ships and vessells, except coasters, the duty of one penny per tun, outwards, and no more, for every tun of the burthen of the said vessell, before they load or unload the goods therein. . . .


Image of first tower at Boston Light reproduced in the 1884 Annual Report of the Light-House Board

The Act goes on to direct that a keeper be hired “to diligently attend his Duty at all Times in kindling the Lights from Sun-setting to Sun-rising and placing them so as they may be  most seen by Vessels coming in or out.”

According to the Bulletin article, “The act of Colonial Legislature was the culmination of a discussion which had been going on for some little time, for as early as 1713 the merchants of Boston had laid before the same General Court proposing the building of a lighthouse at the harbor entrance.”

The Boston Light was originally lit with candles. Fire was reported to have damaged the tower in 1720 and 1751. The wooden lantern was subsequently replaced with a metal one. The tower was burned and later blown up during the Revolutionary War, leaving the area dark for the next seven years. The tower was replaced in 1783, and Snowman reports, in her new book on Boston Light, that there is evidence of the earlier tower in the current tower’s foundation. Although modified, the 1783 tower still serves as an active aid to navigation.


There were USCG personnel still living on the island when I visited in 2002. I believe, the man in the full blue uniform, the park ranger, and the duck were all from off island. Photo by Candace Clifford

Boston Light is now part of the Boston Islands National Recreation Area. Tours are offered every weekend from late June through early October.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society has partnered with Lands End, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard to rehabilitate the boathouse.  A video about this project can found on the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s website.

The current issue of The Keeper’s Log features Boston Light. I contributed some letters from the National Archives to illustrate the station’s early history. As you many of you know, I am now the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s historian. I haven’t figured out how to “blog” on their website but I would love to bring these posts to a wider audience and perhaps have some you, my colleagues in the lighthouse community, contribute pieces on various aspects of lighthouse history and preservation once in a while. I’ll keep you “posted”!

Submitted by Candace Clifford, September 14, 2016


Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper Thomas A. Tag

I have the pleasure of working with Tom Tag in my new part-time position as the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s new historian. As most of you know, Tom is the “goto guy” for everything technical in the lighthouse community. He’s written numerous articles for The Keeper’s Log on lenses, lamps, fog signals, illuminants, etc. He’s inventoried surviving lenses and lamps in the U.S. He and his wife Phyllis have created a database of all the lighthouse keepers serving in the Great Lakes. The amount of work he has performed on behalf of lighthouses and lighthouse history over the past 20-plus years is truly amazing!

Tom shared with me that he was born in Chicago but grew up in Laporte, Indiana. At age 14, he would bike to nearby Michigan City and swim off the pier at the Michigan City Pierhead Light. He and his wife Phyllis enjoyed walking out to that same lighthouse when they lived in Michigan City early in their marriage. After retiring from a career in managing computer programmers, Tom was looking for something different to do with his time. On a vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, he noticed how popular lighthouse items were in the gift shops. He then decided he would “corner the market on lighthouse information” and it appears that’s what he’s been doing ever since. He initially focused on the Great Lakes. Later, after joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society, Wayne Wheeler encouraged Tom to write an article for the “Clockwork” section of The Keeper’s Log. He started with “American-Made Lenses” and went from there to publish over 14 articles on lighthouse technology. Tom is now the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s Technical Advisor and serves on their Board of Directors.

Tom Tag (on left) accepting his Ross Holland Award from American Lighthouse Council President Don Terras in 2011. (Click on photo to see citation.)

Tom Tag (on left) accepting his Ross Holland Award from American Lighthouse Council President Don Terras in 2011. (Click on photo to see citation.)

I’ve had an introduction to the digital archives that Tom has created for the U.S. Lighthouse Society and it is truly awesome. Most of it is based on Tom’s own collection and the resources collected by the Society but there is also research donated by lighthouse enthusiasts and other historians. I plan to help Tom in his work to expand the Archives and make it accessible to U.S. Lighthouse Society members.

You may have visited the Society’s new website. Most of the history sections found at were written or put together by Tom. If you haven’t already, you should check out the photos, architectural drawings, and Light Lists that the Society has made available online– Plans are to grow this online repository and I hope to do a new blog for the Society that highlights our progress.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society’s Archives contain a lot of architectural drawings not currently available on their website. I discovered that the Society funded the digitizing of the microfilm collection of lighthouse plans that served as my “course of last resort” when researching lighthouse plans at the Cartographic Section in Archives II. (The microfilm collection includes many plans, albeit not of the greatest copy quality, not found in the main RG 26 lighthouse collection.) The Society is also digitizing the 43 binders containing the letter-sized copies of plans in the main collection.

The creation of this incredible digital repository of lighthouse records would have never happened without the guidance and dedication of Tom Tag. So it is with great pleasure that I include Tom Tag in my list of “Modern Day Lighthouse Keepers”!

~ Submitted by Candace Clifford, July 8, 2016

Restoration at Halfway Rock Reveals Evidence of Its Keepers


Since acquiring the lighthouse in early 2105, Reiche has completed an 80-foot dock, an interior and exterior restoration of the wooden structure, and begun the tower’s restoration according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Photo courtesy of Ford Reiche

I always enjoy hearing from my research clients about their projects–especially if they are using historic documentation to restore or interpret their property.

Ford Reiche has been keeping me up to date on his restoration of Halfway Rock Lighthouse in Maine. He recently sent me these three images relating to the keepers who were assigned to Halfway Rock in the 1930s.

I was delighted with his interpretation of what he discovered in the process of restoring the tower:


Photo courtesy Ford Reiche

The crew at Halfway Rock had a long and frustrating effort to get funds appropriated for a refrigerator. From the date of construction in 1871 until 1937, they had no ice or refrigeration. Some other lighthouses had been provided with refrigerators earlier, but it was pretty much restricted to those stations with families present. Because of the inherent dangers at Halfway Rock, it was limited to men only..called a “stag lighthouse”.  Also they did not get electricity there until 1936. When the day came that they finally got a refrigerator, in 1937, the crew made room for it by removing shelves in their little galley pantry so they could slide the refrigerator in there. In the process, Wm Clark and Arthur Strout signed and dated the back wall of the pantry to mark the occasion. 

IMG_1184 copy

Photos of whiskey bottle courtesy of Ford Reiche

There was widespread consternation in the lighthouse world when announcement was issued by Washington D.C. that the U.S. Lighthouse Service would be disbanded in 1939 so that the entire system could be folded into the U.S. Coast Guard. Last year when we removed a failing wall in the living quarters that had been built in 1938, we were delighted to find a little joke for us left inside the wall framing by Clark and Strout…the bottle of whiskey that had emptied to ring in the holidays at the end of 1938. As you will see from the photo below, they signed and dated it.  In addition to taking pleasure in breaking several rules about liquor on premises, I have suspected that this was a small sign of their protest about the imminent disruption that they were facing as the U.S. Coast Guard way of life was about to be imposed upon them.

IMG_1186 (1)

Reiche is putting together a website at