Restoration at Halfway Rock Reveals Evidence of Its Keepers

I always enjoy hearing from my research clients about their projects–especially if they are using historic documentation to restore or interpret their property. Ford Reiche has been keeping me up to date on his restoration of Halfway Rock Lighthouse in Maine. He recently sent me these three images relating to the keepers who were assigned to Halfway Rock in the 1930s. I was delighted with his interpretation of what he discovered in the process of restoring the tower: The crew at Halfway Rock had a long and frustrating effort to get funds appropriated for a refrigerator. From the date of construction in 1871 until …

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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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Lighthouse Keeper Records Prison Riot at Alcatraz

Harry Davis became keeper of Alcatraz Lighthouse, marking the entrance to San Francisco Bay, in 1938. I was recently copying his logs in the National Archives as part of a research project for the U.S. Lighthouse Society. Davis’s log followed the two-page-for-every-month format, devoting one or two lines to each day’s weather and activities. He and his three assistants spent most of their time maintaining the property and the two fog signals. Then the format changed for May 1946 with a narrative written across two pages: May 2: 1430 hrs. Convicts on the loose with submachine gun, entire prison held at bay. Shooting …

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Alexander Hamilton and Lighthouses

While working in my digital research library, I recently revisited several letters written by the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton. As you know, the Secretary of Treasury oversaw lighthouses in the early years of the new republic, with frequent oversight from President Washington. These letters were written to Benjamin Lincoln, the first customs collector in Boston, who, as the letters indicate, became the first superintendent of lighthouses for the state of Massachusetts. Copied from Record Group 26 during a 2001 visit to the Boston Regional Branch of the National Archives, the first letter is dated March 10, 1790, and the second July 14, …

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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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Ice and Lighthouses

On February 11,1936, H.D. King, Commissioner of Lighthouses, wrote the Secretary of Commerce: The extremely critical conditions due to prolonged and severe cold and resulting ice conditions along the North Atlantic seaboard have placed in serious jeopardy many aids to navigation, both fixed and floating, particularly in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries . . .  King goes on to mention that the Janes Island Lighthouse, near Crisfield, Maryland was destroyed; however, the keepers had previously abandoned the station for their safety. Personnel were evacuated from Tangier Island, Point No Point, Ragged Point, Tue Marshes, Love Point, and York Spit Lighthouses. …

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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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