The Lamplighters

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Lighthouses conjure up romantic images of windswept shorelines and the intrepid keepers who maintained the light through the night.

However, by the mid-20th century, technology conspired to eliminate the light keepers’ responsibilities. Electric bulbs replaced the glow of oil lanterns; electric motors made the clockwork mechanism that turned the lens obsolete. Photocells, like the kind you find on the tops of streetlights around the country, now turned the light on and off.

And in 1955, with the St. Augustine Lighthouse completely automated, there was no longer a need for nightly visits by the light keepers.

The Lamplighters

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David Swain with his wife Mary posing during his time as keeper at Cape Canaveral Lighthouse

Despite the removal of light keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard still needed people to ensure the lights came on each night and perform routine maintenance. They called these people lamplighters. To fill these positions, the Coast Guard turned to those most familiar with the keeping of lighthouses: former light keepers.

The first lamplighter at the St. Augustine Lighthouse was a familiar face. David Swain had served as first assistant keeper from 1933 to 1944 before moving on to other lighthouses in Florida.

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Lighthouse Breaks Ground on Maritime Archaeology & Education Center

Ground Breaking Ceremony

A new facility at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum will replace temporary spaces to provide a permanent, handicap-accessible home for maritime research and education programs.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. – With 450 years of maritime history sitting off St. Augustine’s shores awaiting discovery, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is looking toward the future for space to save the past. Through funds raised in the nonprofit museum’s most recent capital campaign, as well as a grant from the State of Florida, the Lighthouse broke ground on a new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center today.

“This new building is going to be an excellent asset not just for our Museum, but for the community as a whole,” said Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming. “The handicap accessible education space and room for archaeological research will help us continue to discover St. Augustine’s maritime past and share it with future generations through new exhibits and educational programs.”

Ground Breaking Ceremony

Guests at the ceremony included St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver, State Representative Cyndi Stevenson, representatives from the office of Senator Marco Rubio, and building architect Steven Schuyler. Along with Fleming, Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Capt. Bob Buehn, U.S. Navy retired, spoke to the assembled crowd about the decade of planning that has gone into this new state-of-the-art facility.

The 2,500 square foot structure will include an artifact conservation lab, offices for the Museum’s archaeology program and handicap accessible public exhibit and education space. This will allow for the Museum’s Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) to move out of the World War II-era U.S. Coast Guard Barracks at the Light Station so that the 1940’s structure can be restored and turned into exhibit space.

building blue print

To date, the Museum’s capital campaign has raised over $2.4 million for restoration, programs, and exhibits, of which approximately $863,260 is earmarked specifically for the new building. This includes provisions for an X-ray room where archaeologists can see inside concreted shipwreck artifacts to determine the best course of conservation and space for restoring these artifacts. Additionally, the facility will provide a much-needed indoor area for the Museum’s educational programs that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

This project is also sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Department of Arts and Culture, and the State of Florida. The State provided the Museum with a $150,000 cultural facilities grant to use toward the building. Additional federal grant support was provided by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.

A number of private donors contributed to the research center as well, including The Lastinger Family Foundation, Gasper and Irene Lazzara, Jerry and Janet Carlisle, LTC Lee McConkey, The PGA Tour, Inc., Trustee Emeritus Judy Burnett Albright, Charles Cox, and Wright Timothy Jackson.

The Museum still needs approximately $130,000 to complete the campaign. Donors can become part of the Lighthouse Legacy through one of several naming opportunities still available. More information can be found online at staugustinelighthouse.org.

shovels and hats

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ABOUT THE ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE & MARITIME MUSEUM:

A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for over 140 years, the St. Augustine Light Station is host to centuries of history in the Nation’s Oldest PortSM. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) non-profit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest PortSM as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.  

St. Augustine Native Ed Long Receives 2016 Florida Folk Heritage Award

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The State of Florida presented local resident and former shrimp boat captain Ed Long with an award honoring his efforts to preserve the history of St. Augustine’s shrimping and boatbuilding industries.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL. – In 81 years, St. Augustine resident James Edwin “Ed” Long has witnessed a lot of change in his hometown. From 1951 until the 1990s, Long worked in the shrimping and shrimp boat building industry. Today, he is a keeper of that industry’s history and has worked long and hard to make sure it has received proper attention for its financial, global, and community contributions. Thanks to Long’s efforts, future generations can experience this chapter in St. Augustine history. Long saved thousands of photos, boat models, stories and other ephemera, now preserved in the collections of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and part of an exhibit on the history of shrimping.

For his efforts Long was recently awarded the 2016 Florida Folk Heritage Award by the Florida Department of State. At a ceremony attended by Long’s family, friends and colleagues, State Historic Preservation Officer Tim Parsons and State Folklorist Amanda Hardeman presented Long with the award. The Florida Folk Heritage Award is bestowed upon the state’s most influential tradition bearers for excellence, significance and authenticity.

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(Left to Right) State Folklorist Amanda Hardeman, Director of Interpretive Division Brenda Swann, Ed Long, State Historic Preservation Officer Tim Parsons, and Maritime Historian Brendan Burke.

“So much of St. Augustine’s economy and culture was influenced by the shrimping and boatbuilding industries that thrived here throughout much of the 20th century,” said Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretive Division of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. “We are so grateful that Ed had the foresight to save so many artifacts and other pieces that will ensure the stories from this particular part of St. Augustine’s past will never be forgotten.”

Long began his nautical career in 1951 at the Salvador Marina. After a serving as a tank mechanic for the National Guard, Long returned to the maritime world with a job at Diesel Engine Sales Co. (DESCO), St. Augustine’s largest shrimp boat builder. As the industry started to slow down during the 1980s, Long recognized a need to capture a historic moment in time when St. Augustine was the largest producer of fishing vessels in the world, a role that served 23 countries and involved thousands of vessels.

“I started making notes and interviewing captains, crew, dockworkers, fishermen and their families,” said Long. “I knew time was running out to get it down on paper.”

Many of the stories and photos Long collected are also featured in the book “Shrimp Boat City: 100 Years of Catching Shrimp and Building Boats in the Nation’s Oldest City” which he co-authored with Brendan Burke, Maritime Historian at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“I felt the book had to be written,” said Long. “I did what I could to capture part of history.”

The Folk Heritage Awards are part of the Florida Folklife Program, a component of the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources. The folklife program, established in 1979, serves to document and present Florida’s folklife, folklore and folk arts through a wide range of activities designed to increase the awareness of Florida’s traditional culture with residents and visitors alike. It is one of the oldest state folk arts programs in the nation.

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Preparation for the New Maritime Archaeology and Education Center

Most of the artifacts found during this survey looked like this - small fragments of modern material.

MAEC2As many of you may know, some big changes are in the works for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in the coming months!

First and foremost, we are preparing to start construction on our new Maritime Archaeology and Education Center. As archaeologists, part of our role in the planning for the new buildings was to perform an archaeological survey of the area that was to be disturbed during the construction process. This type of survey, often referred to as Cultural Resource Management surveys, or CRM, are required by law before any sort of construction or similar project take place. This meant that Kira Sund, one of our regular volunteer archaeologists, and I traded our scuba gear and shipwreck sites for a bit of terrestrial archaeology here on the Lighthouse grounds. Read on to see Kira’s take on our Lighthouse archaeology experience!

Lighthouse Shovel Testing

By Kira Sund

We may not have had ancient buildings, but it certainly felt like cutting our way through the jungle at times!
We may not have had ancient cursed tombs, but it certainly felt like cutting our way through the jungle at times!

When people visualize archaeology, they typically imagine lost ruins in the deep jungle or ancient cursed tombs. What they don’t usually picture are teams working next to roads or in construction sites digging small sample holes to survey the area. Yet this is one of the most common forms of archaeology; the shovel test, a method used to determine whether there is even archaeological material to be found, and what to do if any is found. It might not seem glamorous (it frequently isn’t), but without these tests many sites would not be found. This kind of testing is frequently performed before construction projects commence; seeing what might be there before it would be built over or demolished.

As the Lighthouse looks to expand with new archaeological and maintenance buildings, this same testing is required. The location of the proposed building was marked, and a pair of archaeologists worked a grid pattern to dig a series of twelve pits one meter (3.3 feet) deep each. Each shovel full is dumped into a screen so it can be sifted for artifacts. There is always a little thrill when something turns up in the screen, even when it is just a shard of glass bottle or a fragment of mortar; anything found might provide an insight into who or what was there before. Continue reading

What’s In a Collection? Fact or Fiction Night

Catchers Mit

Each month we have a special event for our members. Last month was Fact or Fiction, where we provided two stories for each object brought from the collections storage. It was up to the members to decide which story was the correct one.

Many of these objects might not see the inside of an exhibit space and to have the opportunity to highlight them is fun for us. We thought that since not everyone could be at the event we would share the facts with all of you.

Enjoy this in-depth look at some of the artifacts that caught our interest!

Hygrometer

HygrometerMonitoring the weather was one of many tasks assigned to a lighthouse keeper. They would use a tool called a hygrometer, which we highlighted in a previous blog, to take humidity readings. Horsehair was strung across, which would react to the change in humidity causing the needle to move indicating the relative humidity of the area. Here are the inner workings for a 19th century Hygrometer.  It was found during an archaeological excavation of the keepers’ trash pit while building our visitor center. We have found many objects that the keepers had discarded that we have used to help us better understand their lives. Continue reading