Category Archives: Historic documents

U.S. Lighthouse Society News

Greetings!

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

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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 candace@uslhs.org.

Thanks for your participation!

Candace

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.

1835-instructions-1

1835-instructions-2

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

Finding Aid for Lighthouse Logs

I have made the National Archives RG 26 finding aid “List of Logbooks of U.S. Coast Guard Cutters, Stations, and Miscellaneous Units, 1833 – 1980” available at https://lighthousehistory.info/research/uslhs/rg-26-finding-aid-for-logbooks/. Note that lighthouse keepers were not required to keep a daily log until 1872. Many logs are missing.

Logs for the WWII era when the U.S. Coast Guard was part of the U.S. Navy are listed in a different finding aid.

Lifesaving station logs from the USLSS period are kept at regional Archive facilities.

RG 26 Logs Whitlocks Mill to Woobine

Sample page of finding aid

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.

Researching Lighthouse Keepers

Keepers generally did not write their superiors in Washington but confined their correspondence to the  local superintendent of lighthouses before 1852 and the district inspector after 1852. This letter from Elizabeth Williams, keeper at Little Traverse Lighthouse, is an exception.  She is thanking the U.S. Light-House Board for a recent commendation. (RG 26 Entry 48 File 8645)

Keepers generally did not write their superiors in Washington but confined their correspondence to the local superintendent of lighthouses (before 1852) and the district inspector (after 1852). This letter from Elizabeth Williams, keeper at Little Traverse Lighthouse, is an exception. She is thanking the U.S. Light-House Board for a recent commendation. (RG 26 Entry 48 File 8645)

I receive a number of queries about researching lighthouse keepers so I’d like to devote a post to some of the resources available in the National Archives. Since it’s still Women’s History Month, I will illustrate this piece with records used in creating Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers. (Please note that you can click the images to enlarge them for easier reading.)

Unless noted, all of these records are located at the downtown Washington, D.C. facility.

Registers of Keepers

It is fairly easy to compile lists of keepers for lighthouses between 1848 to 1912 by using the Registers of Keepers available on microfilm. M1373 consists of 6 rolls, arranged geographically. All registers include an index; later registers are indexed by both the station and last name of the keeper, so if you know the keeper’s name it is fairly easy to find where he or she served.

Detail of microfilm showing Miss Hiern's approintment as keeper on 18 October 1844. (M1373)

Detail of microfilm showing Miss C.A. Hiern’s approintment as keeper of Pass Christian on 18 October 1844. (M1373)

Note Juliet Nichol's marginal notation about the San Francisco earthquake in her log for April 1906.

Note Juliet Nichol’s marginal notation about the San Francisco earthquake in her log for April 1906. (RG 26 Entry 80 (NC-31) )

Keepers’ Logbooks

Finding keepers after 1912 is more challenging. I look first at any surviving logbooks. (Keepers were required to keep logs starting in 1872.) Logs generally indicate when a keeper reported for duty. Some logs are very detailed, others very cursory. After 1939, when the Coast Guard took over the administration of lighthouses, the log changed from a two-page format for every month to a two-page format for every day so finding personnel changes can be very time consuming. Some commanding officers provided a “crew list” at the front of the monthly log listing all personnel. The commanding officer signed each page so they are easy to spot. (Logs are found in RG 26 Entries 80, 330, P-65 and 159)

1928 Job Description

In 1928 keeper salaries were reclassified. To help facilitate this process, each keeper filled out a two-page form providing their job description. They also provided the date they entered the lighthouse service and the date they were appointed to that station.  (RG 26 Entry 111 (A-1))

Most of the keeper letters in the field records are generally about routine matters--supplies, leaves of absences, requests for transfer, care of station or machinery, etc . (RG 26 Entry 6 (NC-63)

Most of the keeper letters in the field records are generally about routine matters–supplies, leaves of absences, requests for transfer, upkeep of station or machinery, etc . (RG 26 Entry 6 (NC-63))

Field Records

Letters from keepers are rather rare. If your keeper served in the 5th, 7th, 9th, or 12th districts around the turn of the 19th century, there may be letters written by the keeper to his or her boss, the district inspector. These letters were bound into volumes by the district office. Some have an index at the back of the volume; others are indexed in a separate volume. Found in RG 26 Entries 3, 5, 8, and 9 (NC-63). See my RG 26 finding aid for more information on these entries.

USCG Retirement Cards

There are nine boxes of retirement cards organized by the employee’s name. These include all types of employees — keepers, depot workers, lightship and tender crew, and district office staff. Each card gives a summary of the employee’s service. The cards appear to cover the time period between the two world wars. (RG 26 Entry 7 (A-1))

Sample letter from RG 26 Entry 82

Sample letter from RG 26 Entry 82

Nominations and Appointments

The National Archives staff put together a database of lighthouse keepers mentioned in correspondence found in RG 26 Entries 82, 85, 16, 17I and 259. It also includes ship crew, inspectors, and lifesaving service personnel. You can access the database with the help of a maritime archivist in the finding aids room or see a modified version as this searchable PDF.

You can also find letters regarding appointments and personnel changes during the U.S. Light-House Board (USLHB) period in the correspondence from district inspectors in RG 26 Entry 24 (NC-31). The original letters were bound into letterbooks, many of which burned in the 1922 fire. There is an index of these letters in RG 26 Entry 38 that provide summaries of each letter received.

Form letter from district inspector informing the USLHB of the transfer of Margaret Norvell from Head of Passes to Port Ponchartrain.  (RG 26 Entry 24)

Form letter from district inspector informing the USLHB of the transfer of Margaret Norvell from Head of Passes to Port Ponchartrain. (RG 26 Entry 24 (NC-31))

RG 26 Entry 32 (NC-31) “Letters Sent by Treasury Dept. & USLHB, 1851-1907” also include correspondence regarding nominations and appointments. Some volumes contain press copies of appointment letters. Note there is a gap between 1877 and 1905.

There are notices of appointment for the 1849-1873 time period in RG 26 Entry 99 (NC-31).

Keepers before 1848

For keeper appointments before 1848, I rely on RG 26 Entry 18 (NC-31) “Letters Sent Regarding the Light-House Service, 1792 – 1852.”  These volumes record every outgoing letter sent by the administrator of lighthouses, starting with the Commissioner of the Revenue. He would correspond with the local collector of customs who served as superintendent of lighthouses for his region. The collector would be notified whenever a new keeper was appointed. The volumes are indexed.

Stephen Pleasonton notifies the local Superintendent of Lighthouses that the appointment of Ann Davis as keeper of Point Lookout Lighthouse has been approved.

Stephen Pleasonton notified the local Superintendent of Lighthouses that the appointment of Ann Davis as keeper of Point Lookout Lighthouse has been approved. (RG 26 Entry 18 (NC-31))

Conversely, the collector would send letters to the lighthouse establishment in Washington notifying them of the need for a keeper, suggesting keepers to be considered for appointment, or any other issues concerning the keepers under their employ. Occasionally the collector would forward a request or report from an individual keeper as attachments. The collector would also submit accounts for paying the keepers. These original letters are organized by the port at which the collector served in RG 26 Entry 17C (NC-31).

The local superintendent reports a fire at Point aux Barques Lighthouse where Catherine Shook was keeper. (RG 26 Entry 17C)

The local superintendent reported a fire at Point aux Barques Lighthouse where Catherine Shook was keeper. (RG 26 Entry 17C (NC-31))

You can also find keepers in the Federal Registers of Employees that were issued every two years for most of the 19th century.  Look under the section for the Treasury Department. It also lists the collectors of customs and USLHB members, engineers, and inspectors. Those volumes belonging to the National Archives can be found in the library at the Archives II facility in College Park, Maryland. I understand that some of these volumes are available online.

Letters to the Secretary of the Treasury

Early on, appointments had to be approved by the Secretary of the Treasury. Gradually it appears that he was merely informed of changes in keepers. Entry 31 (NC-31) “Letters Sent to the Secretary of the Treasury, 1852-1908” confirm appointments made during most of the U.S. Light-House Board period, 1852-1908.

Oath of Office for Mary Reynolds, keeper at Pass Christian. (RG 217 Entry 282)

Oath of Office for Mary Reynolds, keeper at Pass Christian Lighthouse. (RG 217 Entry 282)

Oaths of Offices

Every keeper was required to sign an oath of office during the U.S. Light-House Board period. RG 217 Entry 282 includes oaths of offices for all types of Treasury Department personnel, including keepers from 1865 – 1894.

Personnel File

If the keeper served after the Lighthouse Service became part of the Civil Service in 1896, there should be a personnel file at National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. See <http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/civilian-personnel-archival/> for more information.

Online Resources

Kraig Anderson includes lists of keepers for each lighthouse on his comprehensize webiste <www.lighthousefriends.com>.

Jeremy D’Entremont does the same on his website <www.newenglandlighthouses.net> for New England Lighthouses and Terry Pepper for western Great Lakes lighthouses at <www.terrypepper.com/lights/index.htm>.

~ Created by Candace Clifford, March 2015

Lighthouses at the Start of World War II

Scott Prices’s recent post “Pearl Harbor: 5 things you didn’t know about the Coast Guard that day” starting me thinking about what I had in my research files about lighthouses around the beginning of World War II.

Makapuu logbook

The log for the Makapuu Lighthouse, on Oahu not far from Honolulu, shows that watches were increased in the week after the Pearl Harbor attack.

As you all know, the U.S. Coast Guard became part of the U.S. Navy during the war.  On December 12, 1941, a confidential memorandum from U.S. Coast Guard Commandant R.R. Waesche discussed “Coast Guard National Defense Functions”:

While all reports received at Headquarters and the Navy Department have shown that the duties performed by Coast Guard officers and men have been very satisfactory, and in many cases deserving of commendation, I believe it desirable to call attention of our Senior Officers and to Captains of the Port, the following matters:

In addition to the duties being performed by Coast Guard officers and men at sea, there are two National Defense functions of paramount importance now being performed by the Coast Guard organization. I refer to the blacking out of aids to navigation on short notice, and the prevention of sabotage in our ports. . . . No organized plan of sabotage has as yet broken out in our seaports, but it is to be expected any time that such an organized effort may occur.

Senior Coast Guard Officers of the Naval District are also directly responsible to see that adequate and efficient plans are made for quickly extinguishing navigation lights. Some plans received at Headquarters require from two to three hours to black out a harbor. I believe by this time that this period has been greatly reduced.  Among the various measures that may be taken to accomplish the general purpose are the following:

a) Replacing lighted aids with unlighted aids for the duration of the war.

b) Reducing the candle power of various lighted aids to navigation.

c) Removal of all radio beacon buoys.

d) Taking measures to prevent lighted aids to navigation from being seen from the air while still visible from a surface vessel.

e) The feasibility of withdrawing lightships from their stations and replacing them if necessary, with other types of aids to navigation

f) The elimination of radio beacons either on lightships or on shore stations.

g) Limitation or elimination of fog signals

h) Elimination or limitation of lighted aids to navigation.

(Source: National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 82C)

This memo found in National Archives, RG 26, Entry 82c, indicates that an incident such as the Pearl Harbor attack was not unanticipated.

This memo found in National Archives, RG 26, Entry 82c, indicates that an incident such as the Pearl Harbor attack was not unanticipated.

It is interesting to note that a memo regarding “Coastal Lookouts at lighthouse stations, etc.” dated December 5, 1941, was issued before the attack. It begins:

In two districts the matter of establishing coastal lookouts at light stations to be manned by Coast Guard personnel has been considered and is being approved. These are located at prominent salients along the coast where continuous watches from lifeboat stations are not available. In some cases, at least, such lookouts would be provided with search light facilities for signaling or for challenging and communication with passing ships. . . .

(Source: National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 82C)

Makapuu Point Lighthouse. National Archives photo

Makapuu Point Lighthouse. National Archives photo

Letters from the First District Lighthouse Inspector, 1884 – 1885

Letter submitting Marcus Hanna's application for a lifesaving medal.

Letter submitting Marcus Hanna’s application for a lifesaving medal.

Many lighthouse “letterbooks” were damaged in a fire in the basement of the Department of Commerce in 1921. (This same fire destroyed the 1890 census.) I’ve heard that 40% of the lighthouse records that existed at that time were destroyed. Many surviving volumes were damaged and are too fragile to handle. In order to make them accessible to the general public I have started a digitization project to capture the damaged volumes.

The volume of letters from the first district Inspector to the U.S. Light-House Board, 1884 – 1885, was more than 500 pages–too large to create a PDF for web use so for this volume, I have created an image gallery.

Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse Keeper Marcus Hanna.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Cape Elizabeth Keeper Marcus Hanna. Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Most of the letters are routine but I noticed that this volume covers the January 28, 1885, rescue of crew from the shipwrecked schooner Australia (see p. 188).  Cape Elizabeth lighthouse keeper Marcus Hanna went on to receive a gold lifesaving medal for his role in the rescue. On page 418, you find First District Inspector A.S. Crowninshield’s letter:

I have the honor to forward herewith an application from Mr. Marcus A. Hanna, Principal Keeper of Cape Elizabeth Light Station for a medal of honor for rescuing the lives of two persons from the wreck of the Schooner “Australia” on the morning of Jan. 28th ’85: together with sworn statements from several of the eye witnesses of the circumstances, and others.

In referring this application of Mr. Hanna’s to the Board, I would respectfully state, without hesitation, that Mr. Hanna’s exposure to danger on the occasion in question, was made under great peril to himself; and in my opinion, I believe him entitled to the reward he is now seeking.

The wreck of the Australia drew support for a lifesaving station that was established at Cape Elizabeth in 1888. More on Keeper Hanna can be found in Maine Lighthouses: Documentation of Their Past.

Cape Elizabeth Lifesaving Station, Maine.  Note one of the twin lighthouse towers in the background. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

Cape Elizabeth Lifesaving Station, Maine. Note one of the twin lighthouse towers in the background. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard