|Whitehead Lighthouse and dwelling, Maine--Coast Guard Photo|
I've never met Dave Gamage, but I so love his Facebook posts. They are always full of interesting, sometimes techie, lighthouse material, not to mention lifesaving info too. He sent me an essay of sorts about a year ago. It's called "What the Heck are Lighthouses Anyway?" I think you'll enjoy it. Do leave comments if you wish, and check out Dave Gamage on Facebook.
Here's the bio he wrote for me--
I am a Mainer, born and brought up on the coast, an amateur historian and author of several articles regarding the Lighthouse Service and the Life-Saving Service. My grandfather was for ten years assistant keeper of Matinicus Rock Light and twenty-one years head keeper at Whitehead Light. I also have two uncles who served as civilian keepers. My father during his twenty five year Coast Guard career primarily in search and rescue also served as officer- in -charge of the Rockland Breakwater Light and Portland Head Light. I am fortunate to have lived at lighthouses and visited others when they were manned and lived at CG small boat stations in Maine and Mass where my father was o.i.c.
And here's his essay called "What the Heck are Lighthouses Anyway?" Enjoy!
People say they love lighthouses. But for many if not most this is passive love, not active. How then do we change passive support to active participation in lighthouse preservation?
The more people who learn of the important role lighthouses played in the history and development of this country the more likely they will support preservation of these and the associated structures, this support by needed contributions of money and by active participation in preservation work at these many lighthouses.
To that end effective lighthouse education would be appropriate for school kids and even for adults. I note that for example the Lighthouse Society has a Teachers Lighthouse Resource for K-4 and there are a few others I have seen. I do not believe any these will be very effective to excite school kids long term or adults.
To be most effective to teach this history it is most important to begin with something that everyone is most familiar with today. And this is the grocery store that even the youngest child is familiar with and has visited often. And with this what if one went to the store to do one's week worth of grocery shopping and then to discover the store the store shelves were empty? The store manager tells says he does not anticipate replenishing the shelves for another week or perhaps two. Big problem!
The following is what I believe would an effective approach to teach the importance of lighthouses that could be adapted for various age levels from young children to adults.
The grocery store. Where and how does the store keeper acquire all the items on the store shelves? These come today mostly by truck, some by railroad and maybe some by air plane to a nearby airport. What if the store shelves went empty and for many days at a time?
Now imagine living in a small coastal village many years ago. This village with houses, a school, a church and most importantly a store. This was a general store. It was a grocery store, shoe store, hardware store, book store, toy store and other stores all in one and also post office in this store.
This store was very important to the people in this small town. This town could not exist for long if not for this store. This store was a source of things needed for food, clothing and shelter.
Many years ago there were no planes, no railroad and no trucks. Instead there were horse drawn wagons. But then only very poor dirt roads, no bridges over shallow rivers and streams. And the wagon would have to stop on occasion to rest the horses. And without lights they might not travel at night. It might take several days of travel to bring supplies to the village general store. In winter these roads often blocked by snow, very muddy in spring and the shallow rivers and streams flooding during spring runoff. If depending on wagons the store shelves in the town would often become empty.
Instead of wagons, the supplies needed for the store and other items were brought to this village by ships with sails to be unloaded at the wharf at the village harbor. A ship could carry as much as could many wagons. Ships routinely sailed up and down the coast delivering supplies to villages and towns.
Not only did this town and others depend on ships to deliver the various things they needed but people in this town produced products to sell at other towns. There was a saw mill that produced lumber. There were fields for growing potatoes, squash, carrots, etc. that could not be grown at locations of other towns. For being a town on the coast there were fishermen who in those days with no electricity and thus no refrigeration would dry the fish for shipment. The people in this town depended entirely on these ships to carry the products of their labor to market. This is how they earned a living.
The keeper stayed at the lighthouse most of the time. He had a wife and children so they built a house for them near the tower. This was the keeper's house. His family also helped take care of the light tower and the house. This is much like a family farm where each family member participates in the daily activities. If the keeper was taken ill and bedridden the keeper's wife or an older son or daughter would attend to the lamps until he was well again.
A captain navigated his ship using a compass, a weight on a rope to determine the depth of water, and a float on a rope with which to determine his speed through the water. During daylight he continuously observed the various features of the coast he was passing, there being many identifiable landmarks such as a hill, and open field, perhaps a random farm house. It was from this chart that he could identify the safe waters and the hazardous waters to avoid. By observation of two landmarks at the same time a captain could determine his exact location on the navigation chart. This is but one of many ways lighthouses are used by mariners in coastal navigation, aka, coastal piloting. At night none of the many natural land marks could be seen. The only landmarks to aid his navigation at night were the lights of the lighthouses. Lighthouses contributed to preventing the loss of ships and loss of life by significantly aiding the captain to effectively navigate his ship both day and night. What captains did not do was head first for one light and then to the next in connect-the-dots fashion. This was a sure way to be wrecked.
And regarding the fisherman, many were fishing many miles off the shore and for two or three days and nights. And late that last day or early evening head back to their home port and guided by the welcoming light of the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor.
Because they were needed the Lighthouse Service was created to take responsibility for all the lighthouses. And in this to supply and maintain them and to hire the keepers. The Service had a small fleet of ships, lighthouse tenders that traveled the coasts to supply the lighthouses. Many light stations were given one or two small rowboats, a launching ramp and boathouse. This enabled getting to town to pick up the mail and acquire groceries when roads at times were not passable. The landing ramp would also be used by the crew of the lighthouse tender when delivering supplies.
It should be mentioned that the lighthouse tower, dwellings, associated structures such as the small oil house for storing lamp fuel and land combined was known as a light station. This the facility where keepers were stationed, their duty station. An assistant keeper at one station would sometimes be promoted to the position of keeper at another light station where a keeper vacancy occurred.
To become a light keeper a person would apply for this job position and if accepted he most likely would be assigned to a station quite distant from his home. The Service would provide transportation to his assigned station, often by lighthouse tender, for this new keeper and his family and their household possessions. And would do likewise for a keeper and family when transferring to another duty station. Some lighthouses were located in tidal waters with no separate dwellings. The keepers lived in the lighthouse and these did not have room for the keeper's families.
The Lighthouse Service constructed many more lighthouses at harbors and ports and including places along the coast where there were reefs, ledges, sand bars and islands extending out into the waters that the ship captain would most want to avoid. Many ships were wrecked on these and their contents lost into the ocean. Lighthouses were built at remote locations for the benefit of the ship captains at both day and night. Some of these were on islands several miles off the coast. At some hazardous locations off the shore where a lighthouse could not be constructed a ship, a lightship with captain and crew remained anchored nearby to show a light at night and sound a bell or whistle during fog.
Fog was a problem for ship captains. Fog at some locations might persist night and day for several days. To aid mariners during fog the Lighthouse Service provided a large bell in a bell house at many lighthouses for the keeper to operate in addition to the light. And at some locations a helper was provided, an assistant keeper who with his family also lived near the lighthouse. Later some of the bells were replaced by steam whistles, two whistles and two boilers, one to operate and one a spare, in a building known as the whistle house. And here another helper, a second assistant keeper might be added. Lots of water was needed for the steam boilers so the Lighthouse Service at some lights constructed a long A-frame structure, a rain shed, such that rainwater from the roof was collected in water tanks for use in the steam boilers.
It was desired to have lighthouses so located that the ship captain would always have one in view, passing one and when it was well behind him there would be the next one come into view. For this reason many lighthouses were constructed, and at remote locations on the coasts from Maine to Florida, on the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Coast, the Great Lakes, and Alaska. Lighthouses were also built on some of the rivers.
The first lighthouse in this country was on an island in outer Boston Harbor. Additional lighthouses were later built in that harbor and to the north and south of the harbor and several lighthouses along the entire length of Cape Cod. In the later years of the age of sail as many as 10,000 ships entered Boston Harbor each year. And all of this lighthouse building was to help ship captains have a safe trip, that the store shelves in many coastal cities and towns would not go empty and the products produced at these locations could go to markets where needed.
Not only did lighthouses aid mariners navigating the coasts but there were many large ships under sail with freight and passengers arriving here from crossing the ocean from Europe. At night when making land it would be the light of a lighthouse first seen. And when it was identified the ship captain would then know which way to proceed to his port of destination. If no light were seen he would not know where he was and might proceed on into hazardous waters. There were many incidents where a ship ended a successful trip across the Atlantic Ocean only to be wrecked on our shores with the loss of many lives. Most significant was having a good system of lights on our coasts that made our country a more attractive place with less risk for ships from overseas to do business.
Ships under sail were entirely dependent on wind. If and when the wind ceased the ship could not move. Ships under sail were sometimes overcome by strong storms and were wrecked when driven ashore by the winds and waves and often with lives lost. When winds became too strong the captain might attempt take his ship to place of refuge such as a sheltered harbor to wait for the wind to subside. And with some storms he might have to wait as many as two or three days before proceeding on.
In time, however, steam powered ships came into use, with side paddle wheels or propellers. These ships could travel faster and in higher winds, and when there was no wind, and thus maintain schedules of arrival and departure. So not only did these ships carry freight but also had meal and overnight accommodations for many passengers to travel from place to place for business or for pleasure in much less time than overland by stage coach on the very poor roads. That now suppliers and customers could easily meet face to face, business relationships improved to the benefit of both. And if for example the lumber customer visited the sawmill and liking what he observed he may order even more lumber.
Ships powered by steam striving to run on schedules for the benefit of the convenience and safety of the many passengers they carried had a greater need for the aid provided night and day by lighthouses than did ships under sail powered by the inconsistent winds.
It was because of the many ships and the lighthouses that helped guide them that this little town and many others and people not only survived, but prospered and these towns grew to become large towns and perhaps small cities. Not only the lighthouse at this one small town was important to the people living here but important also to them the many other lighthouses further up or further down the coast aiding ships to and from their town.
If you visit a lighthouse stand beside the tower and look out the waters beyond. Then imagine many ships under sail and steamships passing in both directions, one hundred or more night and day aided by this lighthouse and the dedication of its keepers and their families. And this is but one of the many lighthouses that not only ship captains depended upon but also all the people living in towns and cities all along the coasts. And also people living inland whose supplies came from coastal towns and the products of there labor was shipped from these towns.
Lighthouses helped save many ships and the lives of those on the ships and aided successful trips up and down coast to significantly enhance the lives and livelihoods of many hundreds of people on shore and inland. This enabled this country of ours to grow and to prosper. This is what lighthouses were all about.
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A presentation of this type can easily and effectively be supplemented by a variety of possible visual aids. It can be adapted for presentation to various age groups. It not necessary to delve into the details of the Argand lamp, lighthouse clockwork, Fresnel lens, or lighthouse characteristics, sectored lights, range lights, buoys, fixed markers, numerous post lights on some rivers and the various designs of lighthouse structures. These lighthouses, our history, and hopefully from this comes not just knowledge of individual lighthouses but conceptual understanding of our system of multiple lighthouses and with this the increased willingness and desire to actively contribute to their preservation. DG 5/29/16