Category Archives: Books

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.

Lighthouses of Northern Florida

Cape San Blas Light Station was moved to its new location in Port St. Joe in July 1914 to avoid encroaching erosion.

Cape San Blas Light Station was moved to its new location in Port St. Joe in July 2014 to avoid encroaching erosion.

Quite a lot has happened in the preservation of lighthouses along the Gulf coast of northern Florida since David Cipra’s Lighthouses, Lightships, and the Gulf of Mexico was published in 1997. (Cipra’s book is a comprehensive history of all the lights on the Gulf coast based on extensive archival research.)

According to Cipra’s book, four masonry towers were erected on Cape San Blas between 1848 and 1885 when a skeletal iron tower was completed. The tower was moved several times back from the eroding shoreline before its most recent move to Port St. Joe. See their website for dramatic images of the 2014 move.

The reconstructed Cape St. George tower with its replica keepers greets you as you arrive on St. George Island.

The reconstructed Cape St. George tower with its replica keeper’s dwelling greets you as you arrive on St. George Island.

Although the final tower at Cape San Blas survived many hurricanes, the tower at Cape St. George did not. Cipra wrote of the 1852 tower being undermined by erosion; however the effects of two subsequent hurricanes and more wave action completely toppled the tower in 2005. The St. George Lighthouse Association salvaged what bricks they could along with pieces of the lantern and reconstructed the tower as the centerpiece of St. George Island. It opened to the public in 2008.

Crooked River Lighthouse was deeded to the City of Carrabelle in 2001.

Crooked River Lighthouse was first lit in 1895. It was approaching it’s 100th birthday when the station was deactivated by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1995. When the Coast Guard declared the lighthouse as surplus to their needs four years later, the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association was formed to preserve the lighthouse. After an extensive and meticulous restoration, it is now open to the public. According to Cipra the tower was given its red and white daymark to distinguish it from the surrounding pine forest.

Crooked River's replica fourth order lens was fabricated by Dan Spinella of Artworks Florida.

Crooked River’s replica fourth order lens was fabricated by Dan Spinella of Artworks Florida.

The Crooked River keeper's dwelling serves as a museum and gift shop.

The Crooked River keeper’s dwelling serves as a museum and gift shop.

The 1842 St. Marks Lighthouse, located in the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, has survived many hurricanes.

The 1842 St. Marks Lighthouse, located in the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, has survived many hurricanes.

In 2013 the U.S. Coast Guard transferred the St. Marks Lighthouse to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who are in the planning phases of restoration.

Located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Pensacola Lighthouse opened for regular visitation in 2010.

The Pensacola Lighthouse opened for regular visitation in 2010.

Stairs at Pensacola Lighthouse

Stairs at Pensacola Lighthouse

The fifth and final lighthouse on the Panhandle is the Pensacola Light Station. The current tower was erected as a coastal light with a first-order Fresnel lens in 1858. (The current lens was installed around 1869 and continues as an active aid to navigation.) Today you can tour the museum in the keepers’ dwelling and climb the 177 steps to the top of the tower and admire the lens and spectacular view.

All photos by Candace Clifford, January 2015.

 

 

 

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Turkey Point Lighthouse Keeper Fannie Salter

Turkey Point Lighthouse Keeper Fannie Salter holds an electric light bulb and the incandescent oil lamp that the bulb replaced. Electricity made the keeper’s job a whole lot easier. Salter retired in 1947 as the last civilian female lighthouse keeper. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

In honor of Women’s History Month I thought it would be a appropriate to share the list of female lighthouse keepers I assembled for our book Women Who Kept the Lights.  I did a major overhaul of this appendix for the latest edition, making sure that I only included the 142 women who had served as principal keepers for at least a year.  Many women served as temporary keepers for a few months after a spouse’s death while the Lighthouse Service searched for a replacement.  Early on we decided that the many women who served as assistant keepers, paid and unpaid, to their keeper husbands or fathers were too numerous to track.

Most family members knew how to care for the light, filling in when the keeper was away fetching supplies, fishing, or otherwise occupied. It was at these “family stations” that women generally received appointments. Coastal stations, with multiple keepers caring for first order lenses or fog signals requiring machinists, did not have women serving as head keepers.  Instead they were generally found at stations with a single keeper, tending lights marking harbors, rivers, or smaller bodies of water. Large numbers of female keepers served around the Chesapeake Bay, on the Great Lakes, or along the Gulf of Mexico. Some female keepers tended a fog bell but none were required to maintain a steam fog signal.

Appendix: Women Who Kept the Lights, 1776-1947

Scott Price at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Historian’s Office, Washington, D.C., has also been tracking female keepers.  His web page lists not only principal keepers but also includes assistant keepers and other female employees of the Lighthouse Service. Scott also recently wrote an interesting blog article “Harriet Colfax & the Women of the Lighthouse Service” and devotes a web page to the 175-foot Coastal Keeper-Class Buoy Tenders named for women keepers.

Bodie Island Keepers: Oral and Family Histories

Bodie book

Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Sandra MacLean Clunies have produced a unique book based on the genealogical research they did for the Bodie Island Keeper Descendants Reunion that took place at Bodie Island Light Station last October. Published by the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, the book features short essays on the keepers with lots of photos of them and their families. The reunion attendees must have been delighted to learn so much about their ancestors. There may still be copies available for purchase through the Society.  Email Diana Chappell –diandmanda at aol.com — for more information.DSCN1123

Record Group 26 in the National Archives includes only a few sources for letters from keepers. You can sometimes find them as attachments to letters written by custom collectors and district inspectors and engineers to their superiors in Washington.  A few letters from keepers also survive in field records.  The letter pictured above is part of the “K Series letters” in Entry 3 (NC-63) “Records of Fifth Light-House District (Baltimore), 1851-1912.”  Keeper Gallop is writing his supervisor, the 5th district inspector. Note the inspector’s notation at the bottom left that he has written the U.S. Light-House Board.

Celebrating a Book Launch

New Point Comfort Lighthouse cakeAs a followup to my post “New Book about New Point Comfort Lighthouse,” I wanted to share this photo of the cake served at the book launch. Isn’t a work of art? I hated to cut into it!

The cake was based on the cover of the book which you can see in the earlier post.  Mathews County Historical Society hosted a reception to launch the book as well as several book signings at their visitor’s center.  The support from the community was tremendous!  We enjoyed meeting keeper’s descendants, folks involved in preserving the lighthouse, folks who lived near the lighthouse, and those who simply loved the lighthouse.  We’re delighted profits from the book will go toward preserving this wonderful landmark!

The book will be sold locally at the Mathews County Visitor Center, 239 Main Street, Mathews or you may order by mailing a check (made out to MCHS) to MCHS, P.O. Box  855, Mathews, VA 23109.  Hard cover books are $28.00 plus $5.00 VA sales tax and shipping and soft cover books $20.00 and $4.50 VA sales tax and shipping.  We signed some extra hardcovers so for a limited time you may be able to request an autographed hardcover.

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Here is keeper Fannie Salter with her son feeding the turkeys at Turkey Point Lighthouse. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office.)

For those starting their holiday shopping, we are now offering the hardcover version of the second edition of Women Who Kept the Lights for $15.95. That’s over 50% off it’s original price of $32.95! You can order using a check with our order form or try out our new shopping cart for credit card orders.  Email me at candace@lighthousehistory.info if you encounter any problems.

Coast Guard Heroes: Margaret Norvell

Here is a posting on the new U.S. Coast Guard Cutter named for Margaret Norvell, who kept Louisiana lighthouses for 41 years — Coast Guard Heroes: Margaret Norvell.

U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Capt. Robert Grant

U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Capt. Robert Grant

Note that we have expanded the chapter on Margaret Norvell in our new edition of Women Who Kept the Lights and it will be reprinted in a forthcoming edition of the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s The Keepers Log.