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Supporting Lighthouse History & Research

For this “Giving Tuesday” we are reprinting a recent column from The Keeper’s Log asking you to support lighthouse history and research.

As you know, a large part of the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s mission is to support lighthouse preservation, history, education, and research. Creating an accessible historical archive has long been part of the Society’s strategic plan.

Cleveland (08) Side Elevation, Section AA NA RG 26 OH copy
Side Elevation for Cleveland Lighthouse, Ohio. As part of their effort to expand the Society’s digital archives, the Society recently scanned the 43-volume finding aid of the main collection of lighthouse plans at the National Archives.

The Society has been collecting lighthouse-related material since its inception in 1984. Society President Wayne Wheeler created the original collection based, in part, on material used in articles for The Keeper’s Log and in planning Society tours. In 2000, Tom Tag, the Society’s technical expert, donated his large collection of lighthouse records. He has been digitizing the Society’s holdings since 2007. This vast digital collection contains photos, postcards, architectural plans, publications, and textual documents. At last count, there were over 184,000 photos and documents. The Society has named this collection “The Tom and Phyllis Tag Lighthouse Historical Archives.”

Some of this material is already available online thanks to the efforts of Society volunteer Gary Riemenschneider. In addition to providing photos and architectural drawings, Gary also created a site devoted to the published Light Lists where the researcher can see data pulled together (with some gaps) for an individual light station between 1839 and 2004.

The Society’s online Catalog will include documents relating to PLACES, PEOPLE, OBJECTS, and VESSELS. Here is an example of an OBJECT — the Anacapa Lighthouse Lens before it was shipped to California. Photo from the USCG Historian’s Office.

Under Tom Tag’s direction, the Society supported the creation of an inventory of surviving lenses and lamps in the U.S. Tom created an extensive technology section about the complex technology developed for lighthouse optics and fog signals since the early 19th century. Society Historian Candace Clifford hopes to create similar sections for Keepers, Lighthouse Construction, and Lighthouse Administration.

Since coming on board in June 2016, Candace has supplemented the Society’s holdings with plans, photos, publications, and documents from National Archives Record Group 26, the primary depository of federal lighthouse records. With the help of her assistant, Linda Keenan, they have digitized U.S. Light-House Board (USLHB) clipping files relating to light stations (both existing and no longer existing), lightships, lighthouse depots, and lighthouse tenders. The clipping files are primarily extracts from the USLHB Annual Reports. Copies of lighthouse plans from the main collection of RG 26 have also been scanned.

Eagle Bluff, WI Clippings NA RG 26 E 13 1
The Society has scanned the National Archives “Clipping Files” that include excerpts from the Annual Reports of the USLHB. This example features Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Wisconsin.

In the summer of 2017, with the assistance of web developer Tom Wheeler, the Society began the design of an online catalog to share the Society’s Archives. The Library of Congress catalog of digital collections was chosen as a prototype in that it organizes its material by collections that are all part of a searchable database with various filters.

We have organized our Catalog according to PLACES, PEOPLE, OBJECTS, and VESSELS and the relational database interconnects these four categories. In other words, a light station (place) relates to its keepers (people) or lens (objects). A lightship (vessel) relates to its crew (people) and its station (place).

Our initial focus has been on existing light stations that comprise the bulk of the material for the PLACES category. We loaded the National Park Service “Inventory of Historic Light Stations” so we would have a record for each surviving light station. Now we are creating a system of relationships between the PLACES, PEOPLE, OBJECTS, and VESSELS as well as creating the initial framework for those records. We are creating data for light-houses that no longer exist. Eventually we will include in the PLACES section, material on depots, lightship stations, museums and other stewards, as well as minor aids to navigation. Next we will focus on lighthouse keepers and other Lighthouse Service personnel, inventors, engineers, builders, architects, etc., for the catalog’s PEOPLE section; then OBJECTS—lenses, lamps, fog signals, and other technology used by the Lighthouse Service. Finally a VESSELS section will primarily feature lightships and lighthouse tenders.

Thomas Point MD keeper letter NA RG 26 E3
This letter would be associated with both a PLACE, Thomas Point Shoal Light Station, and a PERSON, D.A. White, its keeper. National Archives RG 26, Entry 3 (NC-63) Field Records of 5th Lighthouse District.

Kraig Anderson, creator of LighthouseFriends.com, will be helping us gather data on lighthouse keepers and other service personnel. You may have noticed on his site the keeper lists Kraig put together at the bottom of each station’s page. Tom Tag is developing the data for the OBJECTS section.

We hope to sponsor an intern to help Candace in the National Archives. Candace will also be processing any donations such as the large historic postcard collection recently donated to the Society by the family of Herb Entwistle. The Society is not able to house many large collections, but we appreciate donations of digital photos or documents.

Bear Island, ME 1912 HEC (01)
Bass Harbor Head, ME. Postcard from the Herb Entwistle postcard collection.

We hope to have the PLACES section of the Catalog “live” in the summer of 2018. We will gather and upload more documents as funding permits. Candace has applied for a maritime heritage grant for which the Society has to provide a match. A special Archives Fund has been set up to support these activities. If you would support this undertaking, please make a tax-deductible donation to our Archives fund. Any amount will help us in this huge endeavor.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, November 28, 2017.

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please join the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to candace@uslhs.org.

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