Category Archives: Architectural drawing

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.

Postcard_Apr_Stroik_front

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

 

Advertisements

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.

morris-island-map-government-land-lh-south-morris-island-na-rg-26-sc

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.

morris-island-detail

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.”

charleston-10-tiling-plan-1-na-rg-26-sc

“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.

charleston-03-chart-of-se-channel-pumpkin-channel-na-rg-26-sc

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 <candace@uslhs.org>.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, October 21, 2016

 

Los Angeles Lighthouses

Apart from a few more trees, Point Fermin Lighthouse has not changed significantly since its construction in 1874.  Photo by Candace Clifford

Apart from a few more trees, Point Fermin Lighthouse has not changed significantly since its construction in 1874. Photo by Candace Clifford

Point Fermin in 1893. Herbert Bamber photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Point Fermin in 1893. Herbert Bamber photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

I recently attended the Council of American Maritime Museums conference hosted by the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. Upon arrival in Los Angeles I went directly from the airport to the Point Fermin Lighthouse, where historic site manager Kristen Heather gave me a delightful tour.

The tower was designed by Paul J. Pelz, A U.S. Light-House Board draftsman who designed six stick-style lighthouses. Pelz also worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service and designed several their stations.

The tower was designed by Paul J. Pelz, a U.S. Light-House Board draftsman. The stick-style design was used for six lighthouses. Pelz also worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service and designed several of their stations.

Front parlor at Point Fermin Lighthouse. The station is now a museum run by the City of Los Angeles.

Front parlor at Point Fermin Lighthouse. The station is now a museum run by the City of Los Angeles.

The visit was especially meaningful because the first keepers of Point Fermin Light, when it was established in 1874, were sisters Ella and Mary Smith. Although I realize these women had challenges living in such a remote location, I think it would have been a rather plum assignment when compared to many other light stations of that period. The interior exhibits interpret the lives of the station’s four keepers and their families. The fourth-order Fresnel lens is on display in one of the ground floor rooms and visitors can climb to the top of the tower for a spectacular view.

Kristen Heather, the historic site manager, has worked with the property for over a decade.

Kristen Heather, the Point Fermin’s historic site manager, has worked with the property for over a decade.

Lovely gardens surrounding the property are maintained by volunteers. For more information on this wonderful station, visit the Point Fermin Lighthouse website or read Point Fermin Lighthouse Families by Henrietta E. Mosley. The next morning I ventured further down the coast to Point Vicente Light Station. Unfortunately it was closed. Although generally open on the second Saturday of the month, April was the exception. Apparently it was open the previous weekend for a whale watching festival. However I enjoyed walking along the cliffs capturing views of the lighthouse at a distance.

Completed in 1926, Point Vicente used reinforced concrete in the construction of the tower.  A material adapted after the 1906 earthquake. Photo by Candace Clifford

Completed in 1926, Point Vicente used reinforced concrete in the construction of the tower–a material adapted after the 1906 earthquake. Photo by Candace Clifford

The lantern plan for Point Vicente.  Note the diagonal astragals.

The lantern plan for Point Vicente. Pointe Vicente had a larger lens than Point Fermin so could be seen at greater distances. Note the diagonal astragals.

Marking the entrance to San Pedro Harbor, the San Pedro Breakwater Lighthouse was completed in 1913. Photo by Candace Clifford

Marking the entrance to San Pedro Harbor, the San Pedro Breakwater Lighthouse was completed in 1913. Photo by Candace Clifford

Fortunately the CAMM conference included a narrated cruise of the harbors of San Pedro and Long Beach so I was able to capture the San Pedro Breakwater Light, also known as the Los Angeles Harbor Light and locally as “Angels Gate.” Still an active aid to navigation, the tower is located at the end of two-mile breakwater. It welcomes all types of vessels into the nation’s busiest container port. In 1928, Los Angeles Harbor Light Keeper Frank Weller described his duties as consisting of: Standing watches and upkeep of station and grounds, illuminating apparatus, fog signal engines, motors and generators, radio beacon apparatus, aga beacons, oil beacons, gas buoys, motor launch, sail and rowboats.

The Fresnel lens from the Los Angeles Harbor Light is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

The Fresnel lens from the Los Angeles Harbor Light is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

The watches average eight or more hours a day. The first watch is from sunset to 11 p.m. . . . The man on watch starts to light up I.O.V. lamp by heating up the lamp with alcohol; keeps a good light at all times; sees that clockwork and lens is on time; keeps watch on the weather; operates radio beacon for fifteen minutes every hour from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.; and in foggy weather or smoky weather operates fog signal continuously. . . .  Weller had started out as an assistant keeper in 1916. He became keeper around 1922. In 1928 he had two assistants–James E. Dudley and Herman L. Francis. Apparently life at this “bachelor station” was challenging for the assistant keepers. Their high turnover rate indicates that it was not a popular assignment. The Los Angeles Harbor Light was manned until the light was automated in 1973.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is located in the old ferry terminal on the San Pedro waterfront.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is located in the old ferry terminal on the San Pedro waterfront.

Cast Iron Tower at Portland Breakwater

I posted a plan and photo of the first tower on the Portland Breakwater a few days ago.  Here is a historic image of the current cast iron tower constructed on the breakwater in 1875.  Note that the building attached to the tower no longer exists.  And the current tower is now painted white rather than a dark color. Below is a Historic American Building Survey (HABS) drawing of the current tower.  Note the classical columns.  You can download high-resolution HABS/HAER/HAL drawings and photos from the Built in America section of the Library of Congress website.

Imageportland brw 2006

portland drawing

Wooden Tower at Portland Breakwater

portbrw

Plan of 1855 Portland Breakwater Light (National Archives)

Click on images to see a larger view. Like many of the early pier lights, the first tower built on the Portland, Maine, breakwater in 1855 was constructed of wood.  It was replaced in 1875 by the current cast iron tower.

Portland Breakwater Light ca. 1859 (USCG photo)

Portland Breakwater Light ca. 1859 (USCG photo)