Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.
I want to pay tribute to two women keepers who served longer than any other light keeper—male or female—as principal keeper at a single light station: Maria Younghans, who served at Biloxi Light Station in Mississippi from 1867 until 1918, and Catherine Murdock, who kept the light at Roundout Creek on the Hudson River from 1857 until 1907. Both of them served while I was keeping the light on Robbins Reef. Maria Younghans at Biloxi Light stayed 51 years. Murdock retired in 1907 after spending 50 years at her station. These are two of the longest tenures ever at a single station in the United States.
Perry Younghans was appointed keeper at Biloxi in 1866 and died within a year. His wife
Maria succeeded him. A career as extended as Maria’s should have left behind some interesting memorabilia, but a few newspaper clippings provide all that we know of her half-century-long career. An 1893 edition of the New Orleans Picayune reported that Maria, “the plucky woman who was in charge of the Biloxi light, kept a light going all through the storm [hurricane], notwithstanding that there were several feet of water in the room where she lived.”
In the Biloxi and Gulfport Daily Herald of August 22, 1925, her obituary states that “during a 1918 storm, when the heavy glass in the lighthouse tower was broken by a large pelican being blown against it, she and her daughter, mindful of the especial need of the light on such a night, replaced the glass temporarily and made the ‘light to shine’ as before, unimpaired.”
In 1856 keeper George Murdock took Catherine and their two small children to a rickety
lighthouse on the Hudson River, already damaged by weather and ice. Catherine was too
preoccupied with producing a third child to give much thought to safe surroundings. Within a year after his appointment, her husband drowned. Catherine continued faithfully to maintain the light.
She spent a decade (including the Civil War years) in the old lighthouse, which was
threatened repeatedly by severe storms and spring flooding. In 1867 a new light station
(referred to as Rondout I) was constructed of bluestone on the south side of the creek entrance—a solid, cozy structure with four rooms on each of its two floors.
Catherine’s worst experience was a flood in 1878. At 3 a.m. the dam at Eddyville upstream gave way.
Catherine could hear the crashing of houses, barns, barges, boats, and tugs torn from their moorings and swept downstream in the
In 1880 Catherine’s son James was appointed assistant keeper. He succeeded his mother when she retired in 1907. I would like to have met Maria Younghans and Catherine Murdock. We would have had much in common to talk about.
As for male keepers with the longest tenure at a single station, so far I have found Charles P. Skinner at Marshall Point in Maine Honeywell at Cape Canaveral, FL, 1891 – 1930 [39 years], both of them serving while I was at Robbins Reef. Are there others?
[Editor’s note: William Welch was in charge at Van Wies Point, New York, for 52 years (1858-1910), although he didn’t live on site and it was considered a “laborer” position rather than a true “keeper” position. Joseph Henry Herrick was keeper at Hospital Point in Beverly, Massachusetts for 44 years (1873-1927). If you can find other keeper tenures at single stations that exceed the 45-50 year range, please let us know.
Information is from newspaper articles and a fact sheet supplied by the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York.
Candace was the US Lighthouse Society historian from 2016 until she passed away in August 2018. She worked for 30 years with lighthouse history. She also worked with the National Parks System, and the Council of American Maritime Museums. She was a noted historical author and the most knowledgable person on lighthouse historical information at the National Archives. Books by Candace Clifford include: Women who Kept the Lights, Mind the Light Katie, a History of Thirty-eight Female Lighthouse Keepers and Maine Lighthouses, Documentation of their Past.