Next week we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States entering into World War I. On April 6, 1917, the U.S. Coast Guard came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy. The Lighthouse Service was not yet part of the Coast Guard, so President Woodrow Wilson ordered “transfer for temporary use, of certain lighthouse tenders to the War Department and Navy Department.” In December 1918, it was reported that “nearly all of the lighthouse tenders and a number of other units with a total of 1,132 persons, have been serving with the Navy Department, and at the same time continuing the work of maintaining the aids to navigation.” [Source 1918 Annual Report reproduced in the Lighthouse Service Bulletin.]
Although lighthouse keepers did not perform military duties, they were encouraged to cultivate gardens as part of a national effort. Often called “war gardens” (and later during World War II, “victory gardens”), these gardens reduced the pressures the war put on the food supply and were considered a way of supporting the war effort on the home front.
Keeper William J. Thomas reported on the the vegetables he raised at Point Wilson Light Station near Port Townsend, Washington, in a letter to the 17th District Inspector on October 12, 1917:
Have sent you to day per Parcel Post a sample of some of the vegetables I raised on the Station here. Peas, Potatoes, Carrots, Lettuce, Garlic & Squash do well but Tomatoes, Cabbage, Turnips are a failure. Beans fairly well; after planting four times–have 4 gallons of Beans Salted & 2 Gallons canned. The yield was good but of course small quantity as space was limited. Early Onions & Lettuce was splendid and gave Heather [the lighthouse tender] some for their mess. [Source: National Archives, Record Group 26, Entry 50, “Correspondence of the Bureau of Lighthouses, 1911-39”]
A photo documenting some the vegetables grown in the sand around Point Wilson Light Station by Keeper Thomas was found among the photos of Point Wilson in 26-LG collection at the National Archives.
William Thomas served as principal keeper at Point Wilson until 1925. He and his assistant maintained a first-class siren fog signal and a fourth-order lens. The lens with its three red panels was manufactured by Sautter, Lemonnier et Cie, Paris, France. [Source: Classical Lenses in the U.S.] During Thomas’s tenure it was a fixed white characteristic varied by a red flash every 20 seconds. Today the lens is a static display and the active light is produced by a modern VRB 25 on the outside railing with a characteristic of alternating red or white flash every 5 seconds. Photo by Candace Clifford, 2017.
Submitted by Candace Clifford, March 27, 2017
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Candace was the US Lighthouse Society historian from 2016 until she passed away in August 2018. For 30 years, her work involved lighthouse history. She worked with the National Park Service and the Council of American Maritime Museums. She was a noted author and was considered the most knowledgable person on lighthouse information at the National Archives. Books by Candace Clifford include: Women who Kept the Lights: a History of Thirty-eight Female Lighthouse Keepers , Mind the Light Katie, and Maine Lighthouses, Documentation of their Past.