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Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

In an earlier post I talked about single-keeper, “family” light stations which marked sounds, bays, rivers, and harbors. Tall towers, above 150 in height, were the extreme opposite. They stood on flat land on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts where offshore shoals, dangerous currents, or rocky ledges required the light to be seen 14 to 16 nautical miles. They were lit by huge first-order Fresnel lenses. Tall towers stood alone, separate from the keepers’ dwelling. Some tall towers had two assistant keepers, some three to maintain the watch schedule.

absecon pc
The earliest tall tower to be completed appears to be Absecon, New Jersey. Constructed under the supervision of District Lighthouse Engineer George Meade, the 1857 Annual Report remarked, “It is a fact worthy of remark that on this part of the coast of hitherto frequent and appalling shipwrecks, since the exhibition of this light, a period of about ten months, there have been no wrecks in its vicinity.” Postcard from the U.S. Lighthouse Society collection.

As a woman I never would have been appointed to serve as principal keeper of a tall tower.

The light in a tall tower was watched throughout the night to be sure the lamp kept burning properly. A watchroom built below the lantern permitted the keeper to stay there during his watch rather than repeatedly climbing stairs during the night.

These are the nation’s tall towers ranging from 192 to 150 feet in height:

  • Cape Hatteras Light, North Carolina, erected 1870
  • Cape Charles Light, Cape Charles, Virginia, erected 1864 and 1894
  • Ponce de Leon Inlet Light, Florida, erected 1887
  • Barnegat Light, New Jersey, erected 1859
  • Cape Lookout Light, North Carolina, erected 1859
  • Absecon Light, New Jersey, erected 1857
  • Fire Island Light, New York, erected 1858
  • St. Augustine Light, Florida, erected 1874
  • Cape Henry Light, Virginia, erected 1881
  • Navassa Island Light, Navassa Island (an uninhabited Caribbean island located in the Jamaica Channel), erected 1917
  • Morris Island Light, South Carolina, erected 1876
  • Currituck Beach Light, North Carolina, erected 1875
  • Bodie Island Light, North Carolina, erected 1872
  • Cape May Light, New Jersey, erected 1859
  • Dry Tortugas Light, Florida, erected 1858
  • Tybee Island Lighthouse, Georgia, erected 1867
  • Cape Canaveral Light, Florida, erected 1868
  • Pensacola Light, Florida, erected 1859
  • Cape Romain Lighthouse, South Carolina, erected 1858
Cape Romain SC both towers NA 26-LG-71-73-ac copy
At 150 feet, the second tower at Cape Romain, South Carolina, was significantly taller than the tower it replaced. National Archives photo # 26-LG-71-73.

Sandy Hook, where John was assistant keeper, was 103 feet tall—a secondary coastal light with a third-order Fresnel lens, visible 10.8 nautical miles. I would like to have visited one of the tall towers and climbed its stairway to the top to see the huge first-order lens. Imagine the view!

21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation is from Clifford, Nineteenth Century Lights; <>; and the 1883 Light List.

Submitted November 23, 2017

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