Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef. Women kept the light at Turkey Point in Maryland longer than at any other station on
Chesapeake Bay. Only 38 feet tall, the tower’s location on a bluff at the southern tip of Elk Neck was 100 feet above the bay, making the
light visible for 13 miles.
In 1844 Elizabeth Lusby replaced her husband Robert as keeper at Turkey Point. She remained there until 1862 when the Civil War caused her
to be replaced by a male.
In 1872 the United States Light-House Board required keepers to maintain daily logs recording the weather and shipping; these logs are the source of some of the information about three of the four women who kept Turkey Point Light Station. Some of their letters also appear in National Archives Records of the Fifth Lighthouse District (Baltimore) 1851-1912.
In 1873 Rebecca L. Crouch replaced her deceased husband John as keeper at Turkey Point Light Station, serving until 1895. Rebecca’s daughter, Georgiana S. Brumfield, moved to the station with her parents at the age of sixteen, spending a total of 54 years at Turkey Point. In 1895 Georgiana replaced her deceased mother, remaining at Turkey Point until 1919. From 1891 to 1900 Rebecca and/or Georgiana made separate entries for times the fog signal was running, presumably in response to instructions from the lighthouse superintendent. The Lighthouse Service kept track of number of hours of fog at each station. After 1900, fog signal entries were made in red in among the daily entries.
A few of Georgia’s letters after 1904 survive, dealing with supplies or requesting leaves of absence. On February 26, 1904, she wrote the inspector: Will you please send me a cord for our clock. It is a pendulum clock and has a weight and the cord broke the other day and I can not get any where to get one. I thought you would send me one by mail.
On February 22, 1906, she asked the inspector to bring a barrel of lime and a well rope . . . 96 feet . . . . The lime was for whitewashing the tower. A year later she asked for zinc to go under the cook stove, a barrel of lime, and a well rope as well as a well bucket. The bucket implies that she did not have a hand pump for her well. Picture her on a windy wintry day, hauling water up from a 95-foot well in a bucket.
Fanny Salter did not take charge of Turkey Point Light Station until 1925. Until 1943, when electricity was installed at Turkey Point, Salter made four or five trips daily to the top of the tower. When a 100-watt electric bulb was placed inside the Fresnel lens, increasing the light to 680 candlepower, the keeper’s time-consuming duties were reduced to the mere flip of a switch. Then one trip a day up the tower kept the light in working order. Only during cold weather were additional trips necessary to defrost the huge windows surrounding the light.
Her log on December 18, 1927, says Tender Maple arrived today & installed radio. Although no instruction in its use was provided, Fannie mastered the radio with the aid of the accompanying manual. She was in constant communication with aids-to-navigation authorities and made reports of local weather conditions and other useful information. During World War II the Coast Guard installed a radio telephone set, which Fannie also mastered. Her tenure lasted until 1947.
Information is from National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 80 (NC-31); Entry 3; “Turkey Point Light Station’s National Register of Historic Places Nomination, 2002. ” ; www.lighthousefriends.com; Lighthouse Station Logs, 1872-1947
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org