Kate's Corner · News

Kate’s Corner #34

Rock of Ages Lighthouse
Rock of Ages Lighthouse in 2004, U.S. Lighthouse Society archives

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

Offshore lights, with keepers working in shifts, required an adequate number of keepers to man the light and fog signal as well as to go ashore for supplies or emergencies.

On October 23, 1908, the USLHB authorized the following complement for the Rock of Ages Light Station in Michigan:
Keeper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$65 per month
First Assistant Keeper . . . $45 per month
Second Assistant Keeper . $40 per month

Rock of Ages Light Station on Lake Superior was built in 1908. Located two and one-half miles off Isle Royale, the lighthouse was built atop a steel caisson. The tower of masonry and concrete was cylindrical with keepers’ quarters in the lower levels.

A letter from the Inspector to the Light-House Board on August 14, 1909:

The present complement is a keeper and two assistants, but owing to the isolated location of the station, an additional assistant is urgently required. The station is on a detached rocky ledge off the westerly end of Isle Royale about 150 miles from Duluth, Minnesota. It is, at present, a fixed light of the third order with siren fog signal, but the light is to be changed to a lightning flash of the second order, and there should be two keepers on duty at all times, especially when both the signal and the light are in operation. The keepers when going ashore for supplies, mail or recreation, cannot return within five days by the passenger line running along Isle Royale . . .

Undated aerial view of Rock of Ages Lighthouse, U.S. Coast Guard

A fourth keeper at Rock of Ages Light was approved by the Committee on Pay and Allowances on August 18, 1909. Having four keepers didn’t always guarantee the efficient operation of a light station. “Keeping the Point Reyes Light on the California Coast north of San Francisco in the 19th century was so demanding—battering winds, implacable fog and darkness, unrelieved isolation, the relentless shrieking of the fog signal, the 308 steps (sometimes unclimbable because of wind velocity) between the light and the dwelling, the skimpy wages ($600 to $800 a year)—that one or another of the men (a keeper and three assistants) often refused to follow orders or lapsed into despression, claustrophobia, psychosis, and even violence.”

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21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copy


Information is from National Archives Record
Group 26, Entry 48; and Clifford, Nineteenth Century Lights, p. 2.

One thought on “Kate’s Corner #34

  1. I really love reading your lighthouse articles. With the guidance of US Lighthouse Society we have seen hundreds of lighthouses.
    I use the picture we took and share a story of our trip in a local boating group newspaper.

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