Category Archives: Research

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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“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.

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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

 

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 http://uslhs.org/history 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–http://uslhs.org/lighthouse-interactive-resources. 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

National Archives Starts Digitizing Lighthouse Photos

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Spring has arrived at the National Archives! Photo by Candace Clifford

Happy Spring!

As many of you know the primary resource for lighthouse photos at the National Archives is RG 26 LG “Lighthouses, 1855 to 1933.” These images are fragile and cannot be scanned by researchers so the National Archives has begun a digitizing project to provide them online. I’m happy to report that some have made it into their online catalog!

The images are organized geographically so the first box starts with Maine in the 1st Lighthouse District and the boxes end with Alaska and Hawaii.  There are over a 100 boxes of images so at the rate they’re going it may take years before they are all available. (So far they have made it to Marshall Point, Maine.)

The National Archives online catalog takes a little getting used too. Start at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/513238 and click on “more information.”

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Image of Avery Rock – 26-LG-1-10 from the National Archives online catalog.

Next scroll down to the “Details” section, open, and click on the link “Search within this Series” which reveals a search box to narrow your choices.  Below the search box is a list of all the stations they have scanned so far.  (They must have scanned a few random images before beginning with the first box.)  Note the first “File Unit” is Avery Rock. Click on the “Avery Rock” to take you to a page for that station.  Now click on “Search within this file unit” to see all the images for that station. Finally click on the photo, view, and download if needed.

You may want to email the Still Pictures branch–stillpix@nara.gov–and let them know how pleased you are with this project.

Another great source for historic and contemporary lighthouse photos can be found on the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s website. They have put together a fabulous archive of the many lighthouse photos that have ended up in their collection.

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.

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Sample page of finding aid

Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper Kraig Anderson

Most of you should be familiar with the LighthouseFriends website but may not be aware of the man behind the site — Kraig Anderson.

When asked what has drawn him to Lighthouses, Kraig responds:

The answer is a complex mixture of reasons that is perhaps better understood through firsthand experience than through words. Part of the appeal lighthouses have is that they are found in some of the most beautiful settings, often on rugged coastlines dotted with conifers or on sandy beaches lined with palms. Lighthouses can also be found in the remote extremes of the country where a sunset or sunrise over a large body of water can be enjoyed in complete solitude. A perfect viewing platform for these spectacular settings is the walkway encircling the lantern room atop the lighthouse.

Perhaps lighthouses also appeal to our nostalgic and artistic senses as they are some of the most historic structures to be found in the United States, and the architectural detail found in many of them is amazing. Not only were they built to endure the ravages of the elements enhanced by their often exposed locations, but they were also built as monuments to engineering and design. With hewn rock foundations, spiral staircases, sloping conical towers, ornate water spouts, detailed window trimmings, and lantern rooms filled with giant Fresnel lenses and topped by spherical ventilator balls, lighthouses are simply beautiful structures. With its thousands of prisms, the Fresnel lens sits like a diamond at the top of the lighthouse tower. Witnessing a first-order Fresnel lens take the light of a small bulb and shape it into beams of light, extending for miles from the lantern room and rotating like the spokes in a giant wheel, is a breathtaking experience.

Yet another reason for the allure found in lighthouses is the multitude of heroic rescues associated with them. Though many lighthouse keepers viewed their position merely as an isolating, low-paying job, for others it was seen as a chance to be of true service. Their devotion to tending the light, polishing the lens, sounding the fog signal, and assisting in rescues is remarkable.

One of Kraig's favorite lighthouse experiences was spending a few nights during the summer of 2015 with my parents and fourteen other family members in the keeper’s dwellings at Heceta Head Lighthouse and North Head Lighthouse. For most, it was their first stay at a lighthouse. Although they are unlikely to become die-hard enthusiasts, they all appreciated Heceta Head’s picture-perfect setting and were awe-struck at the red-and-white beams of Umpqua River Lighthouse slicing through the night air. (Kraig is standing at the far right.)

One of Kraig’s favorite lighthouse experiences was spending a few nights during the summer of 2015 with his parents and fourteen other family members in the keeper’s dwellings at Heceta Head Lighthouse and North Head Lighthouse. According to Kraig, for most, it was their first stay at a lighthouse. Although they are unlikely to become die-hard enthusiasts, they all appreciated Heceta Head’s picture-perfect setting and were awe-struck at the red-and-white beams of Umpqua River Lighthouse slicing through the night air. (Family group at North Head — Kraig is standing at the far right.)

A year or so ago, I encountered Kraig in the National Archives doing research for his site. I was impressed that he uses primary research in putting together his histories.

I initially relied on popular lighthouse books to generate information for the various lighthouse pages on my website, but I have gradually compiled a collection of original source material through visits to the National Archives, the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, Library and Archives Canada, regional Coast Guard offices, and various museums and libraries. More of my lighthouse-focused time is now spent in researching lighthouses rather than visiting lighthouses, and my current project is adding lists of head keepers and assistant keepers to my lighthouse pages along with historic images.

I refer to his site often in my own work if I need a quick overview of a lighthouse I’m not that familiar with. I feel confident that the information he presents is fairly accurate and appreciate that he lists his sources! And now that he includes lists of keepers at each station, I have a place to refer keeper descendants that are searching for the lighthouse in which their ancestors served.

You may have noticed Kraig includes both historic and modern photos of each lighthouse. I was impressed to learn that Kraig has visited every U.S. lighthouse and those in Canada as well.

Originally, lighthouses served as a fun way to combine two of my hobbies: travel and photography. Lighthouse journeys took me to the four corners of the contiguous United States and many places I never would have otherwise visited. They also provided the opportunity to meet numerous people, even some lighthouse keepers, who share a passion for lighthouses.

I’m not sure how Kraig manages to  be a lighthouse expert while a full-time electrical engineer in wireless telecommunications, but I really appreciate his generosity in donating his time and talents in developing a fantastic resource for fellow lighthouse enthusiasts.

It’s my hope that people will use the pages on my website to plan their own lighthouse adventures, relive past lighthouse experiences, and participate in their restoration and preservation.

Kraig Anderson certainly qualifies as a modern day Lighthouse Keeper!

~ Candace Clifford, September 2, 2015