Kate's Corner

Kate’s Corner #35

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

I know I’m isolated here, but I have all the activity of New York Harbor around me to keep me from being bored. I can’t help but wonder how keepers at really isolated stations kept their sanity.

Standing on an isolated ledge near the entrance to Boston harbor, Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse sits all alone surrounded by water, two-and-a-half miles from shore. All building materials, supplies, and fresh water were transferred from the mainland by boat.

Minot's Ledge Lighthouse
Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse, U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Do you see the boat hanging in its davits? The keepers used the boat to go ashore. The only other contact they had was with the lighthouse tender, which came every few months to leave fresh water and supplies. What would it have been like to transport water and supplies up that ladder? Could it have been done in rough weather? When the weather was bad, would the tender have delayed its call?

Capt. Barton S. Alexander

There was debate as to how many keepers were needed on Minot’s Ledge.
Captain Barton S. Alexander, Corps of Engineers, wrote to the Engineer Secretary of the U.S. Light House Board on September 25, 1860:

“. . . I have arrived at the conclusion that four Keepers is the smallest number that ought to undertake to keep this light. . .. Minot’s Ledge is situated on a lonely rock in a very exposed situation. So exposed, in fact, that it is sometimes impossible for the best boatmen with the best boats to land there for a month at a time. . . . in all cases when it may be necessary to communicate with the shore, whether from sickness, or accident to the lantern, lens, or lamps, scarcity of oil, fuel, water, provisions, or any oversight whatever, the communication cannot be made with safety unless [four keepers] are present at the light.

Scenes of life at Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse, from an 1890 newspaper article.

Four male keepers lived in the tower, taking alternate leave to be with their families in houses built for them on the mainland. How do you suppose they amused themselves when they were not monitoring the light? Radio and TV were not invented until the 20th century. Telephones were not available until the close of the 19th century. Monopoly and Scrabble not yet invented. Do you imagine that they got tired of each other’s company? They probably played card games (including poker), checkers, and chess. They may have brought newspapers and books from the mainland.

Kate Moore carved duck decoys. Fannie Salter did crossword puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles were invented in 1767. Putting ships in bottles was popular, as were collections of stamps and postcards. Some keepers played
musical instruments.

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Information is from National Archives Record
Group 26 Entry 24

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