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  

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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. 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. After the U.S. Light-House Board took over the administration of the lighthouses in 1852, the lighthouse service became much more organized and …

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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 http://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
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Los Angeles Lighthouses

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 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 …

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Researching Lighthouse Keepers

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 …

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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. 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 …

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Letters from the First District Lighthouse Inspector, 1884 – 1885

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 …

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Bodie Island Keepers: Oral and Family Histories

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. Record Group 26 in the National …

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