Guests to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum can now learn even more about the maritime history of our area. New Nation’s Oldest Port® Demos reveal stories about daily life of a St. Augustine Lighthouse Keeper, how sailors navigated the seas before GPS, and how our Lighthouse Archaeologists discover artifacts underwater on shipwrecks – along with other maritime topics during these interactive and fun experiences.
“Guests can now customize their visit to the Museum through a wide variety of location, theme and time options, making their experience more meaningful to them,” said Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretive Division at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.
“These fun demos create memories and a connection to the historic site and the region’s maritime heritage that will last a lifetime. We love this new opportunity to engage with our visitors!”
also can take a walk with one of our Lighthouse Keepers (Rick Cain and Jason
Smith) and learn about Lighthouse history on a behind the scenes tour. New
Keepers’ Tours are held at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; and at 10
a.m. Wednesdays. The one-hour tours are $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors
and children under 12. Reservations can be made by calling 904-829-0745 or ask
in the gift shop.
Nation’s Oldest Port® Demos are included with the cost of admission to the nonprofit Museum. The educational and interactive programs run each half hour from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the grounds. See the list of demos below.
Regular admission fees to the Museum are $12.95
for adults; $10.95 for seniors and children under 12; and free for children
less than 44 inches (unable to climb the tower). St. Johns County residents
with ID can pay for one day and receive a pass for a complete calendar year.
Membership packages also are available. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
through Memorial Day, then 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week during summer.
For more details about the St. Augustine
Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, visit staugustinelighthouse.org or call
904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at facebook.com/staugustinelighthouse,
Instagram.com/stauglighthouse, and twitter.com/firstlighthouse
Dead Reckoning: Learn how sailors navigated the high seas and inland waters before GPS,
radar and accurate maps.
Tools of the
Trade: Discover how early boatwrights
bent and shaped wooden beams and made waterproof craft.
and Superstitions: Hear common and
not-so-common phrases and words that were a matter of life and death aboard
Challenge: Find out if you could
handle being the keeper of the St. Augustine Lighthouse in the late 1800s at
this fun program that demonstrates and discusses daily life of the keepers.
Improv at the
St. Augustine Lighthouse: Help your
docent decide what stories to tell from Lighthouse past and be surprised by
what you hear!
Way: See how lighthouses throw light
19-25 miles out to sea and learn the importance of lighthouses to early
shipping and navigation.
Shipwrecks and Why They Matter: Learn
how archaeologists search for and find shipwrecks buried under the ocean floor
and discover why these nonrenewable resources are important.
Beneath the Waves: Working underwater
in low visibility offshore of St. Augustine, archaeologists often document
shipwrecks using only their sense of touch. Try your hand at this and “see” how
knowing the artifacts and their location on the shipwreck reveal stories not
Artifact? Uncover more stories in the
lab and find out how artifacts unlock the secrets of shipwrecks and the people
On June 26, 1916, readers of the St. Augustine Evening Record read an entertaining interview with 68 year old Oregon Dunham offering “very interesting reminiscences” from a man “whose remarkable memory…retained so much of what happened in the earlier days.” Dunham recalled significant events in the Oldest City, including the Civil War and some of the local folklore. “Oregon” was a nickname for Francis Philip Fatio Dunham. His mother, Mary, was the daughter of his namesake, Francis Philip Fatio, who arrived in Florida during the American Revolution. His father, David Ross Dunham, born in New York City, came to Florida to oversee his family’s sugar plantation in New Smyrna. The Dunhams proved to be one of several prominent families in Florida’s history. Interestingly, of all the Lighthouse Keepers, Oregon Dunham held the shortest tenure at the station. On April 1, 1875, William Russell and his family moved out of the tower and delivered the keys to then-Assistant Keeper Dunham. On April 15, Dunham accepted the official appointment as Keeper of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. By November 18, a new Keeper, William Harn, arrived.
Oregon Dunham certainly had the pedigree to position himself into a government job such as the Keeper at St. Augustine. As William Russell discovered, government jobs in St. Augustine often depended less on skill and training than upon connections with the rich and powerful. Dunham’s family connections certainly placed him at the top of the applicant pool. He began working at the light station on October 15, 1874, as the First Assistant Keeper under Keeper Russell. Once he received the appointment as Head Keeper, the Second Assistant Keeper, Philip J. Canova, received a promotion to First Assistant. Canova stayed only a few months and then resigned. In order to fill the vacancy, Second Assistant Daniel Mickler was promoted to First Assistant. Such a personnel change may suggest contentious issues at the station; however, we have no record of what prompted Dunham’s dismissal. Nevertheless, the Keeper’s Log provides some hints to the cause.
Within a few months of Dunham’s appointment as Head Keeper, an accident took place. The tower was literally less than a year old when on June 21, 1875, “a little after two o’clock the weight of the mechanical lamp fell through the receiving well carrying the bottom off of the flange and fell into revolving machinery thereby springing some of the shafts so badly as to prevent the ‘revolving’ of the lens.” Although the extent of the damage is not known, the result was that the light ran only as a fixed light, meaning that the lens did not rotate. Thus, the light station could not display its night mark. The log records that the light was back in operation by June 26, 1875, following a visit by the United States Lampist who “placed [the light] in perfect order.” The log also records that the Captain Inspector, AEK Benham, made two more visits to the light station, once on July 28 and another on August 29. Each visit apparently entailed repairs to the site. On the July 28 visit, the Captain Inspector, in his own hand, wrote in the log, “Written the Principal + assistants are to absent themselves from the station until all work is finished and the light + appurtenances are ready for inspection.” In the Light Station Service, multiple visits from the Lampist hinted at a problem perhaps with the light itself; however, multiples visits by the Inspector General within a few months’ time, meant that something was fundamentally wrong with the way the station was run.
Since the tower was relatively new, the Light House Service was bound to be concerned about the job Keeper Dunham was doing. In fact, on November 18, 1875, a new Keeper named William Harn arrived to take command of the Light Station. Although there is no mention in the Keeper’s Log of the removal of Oregon Dunham, we do know that it took place prior to Harn’s arrival. The Keeper’s Log does not record any major incidents for well over a year after Harn’s arrival and appointment.
to Oregon Dunham? As in the case of William Russell, Dunham remains an elusive
figure in historical records. He remained
in St. Augustine, and most of the city directories mention him as a
gardener. He resided in the home of his
mother, Mary Dunham, located on Charlotte Street behind the St. Francis
Barracks. She owned two pieces of
property: one on Charlotte Street and the other just behind it on south St.
George Street facing Maria Sanchez Creek.
With the death of his mother, Oregon inherited these two pieces of
property. The city directory lists a
boarder with a “b” by Oregon’s name until 1890 when he became an owner, marked
with an “o.”
there are no additional records mentioning Oregon until December 7, 1911, when
he sold the property which he had inherited from his mother. He sold it to his brother, David L. Dunham,
for the sum of ten dollars. The warranty
deed records only the monetary transaction, not why Oregon sold the land. The next mention of Oregon appears in the article
in the St. Augustine Evening Record
of June 26, 1916. In September of 1916,
Oregon Dunham applied for residence in the Florida Confederate Home in
Jacksonville. Created by the Florida
Soldiers Home Association in 1888, the facility was a retirement home for
Confederate veterans. The Association
had purchased ten acres of land along Talleyrand Avenue for the construction of
an Italian-styled building with nine rooms.
An adjoining home contained two additional rooms. Residents had to furnish proof of their
Confederate military service as well as their honorable discharge or
10, 1861, Oregon Dunham, only 14 years old, had enlisted in Company B of the
Third Florida Infantry, otherwise known as the St. Augustine Blues. His older brother, David Lewis Dunham,
enlisted in Jacksonville with Company H of the Second Florida Infantry. Oregon served for only a short time before
his parents pulled him out of service because of his youth and a physical
disability. He hired someone of the same
age to serve in his place and to answer to “Oregon Dunham.” However, the substitute was discharged on
November 2, 1862, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Dunham remained in St. Augustine throughout the war. Refusing to take the oath of loyalty to the
Union, he found himself in custody. When
the other Confederate supporters in St. Augustine were deported to Confederate
lines, the Union commander ordered that Dunham remain in St. Augustine and daily
report to the Union Provost Marshall.
Dunham detailed his war experiences in his application for a Confederate
pension in 1909. Unfortunately, when
Dunham filed the paperwork, he used his given name, Francis Philip Fatio
Dunham, not Oregon Dunham. The State
Board of Pensions denied the request since there were no records filed under
his given name. A second application included
both names, but met with the same fate since Oregon had used a substitute. Using their connections in state government,
the Dunham family requested that Oregon be awarded his pension. Therefore, on June 13, 1913, the Legislature
of the State of Florida passed State Bill Number 127 requiring the State Board
of Pensions to “accept proofs submitted by the said Oregon Dunham as proofs of
service and place his name on the roll of pensioners to whom has been allowed a
disability mentioned by Oregon Dunham in his application for a Confederate
pension is known as varicocele, the enlargement of the veins in the scrotum
(very similar to varicose veins which occur in the legs). The condition can cause a great deal of pain
and usually leads to infertility. Even
with today’s medical knowledge, the exact cause of the condition is unknown, and
there are no known risk factors that contribute to the diagnosis. The common treatment for the condition was
surgery; however, it is doubtful that Dunham would have opted for such an
invasive procedure. One of the major causes
of death during the Civil War was not wounds inflicted upon soldiers but the
conditions in field hospitals and operating rooms where infections ran
Dunham supervised the St. Augustine Light Station for only a short time, his tenure
there was historically important. Despite
the unfortunate incidents that seem to have cut short his career in the Light
Service, Dunham’s service demonstrates that family connections and prominence in
the community provided him an opportunity to serve. We must remember that following the Civil
War, appointments for most government offices were rarely based around experience. The civil service exam would not determine
eligibility for government service until the Pendleton Act of 1883, and even
then the number of government positions within the government that required the
exam was minimal. Following his time as Keeper, Dunham remained in St.
Augustine and was employed as a gardener.
More than likely, his disability kept him from pursuing farming or any
other physically demanding occupation. He
died in 1916 and was buried in St. Augustine’s Evergreen Cemetery with other
members of his family. When William Harn
arrived in St. Augustine, the Light Service sought a Keeper who could avoid the
errors of the former Keeper while bringing stability to the station.
“Where’s the elevator in this thing?” A young woman who couldn’t be more than 30 asks me as I stand at the top of the tower welcoming her to the observation gallery. You might be amazed at how often that question gets raised during a normal day. Granted, I have gained a new appreciation for Paul Pelz for having the forethought to add landings to his design for our Lighthouse! What we often forget is that the men and women of the United States Lighthouse Establishment climbed those stairs often more than once a day usually carrying oil or perhaps something heavier and did so without a second thought!
we begin this series on lighthouse keepers and their families, we must consider
how life at the light station in St. Augustine differed from life at other
stations. The keepers and their families functioned within the larger
community. They were born, married, and died here, and they left their
imprint within the larger St. Augustine community. Most light stations
were too remote for such interaction but early on, our Lighthouse welcomed
visitors and residents alike.
The keepers became local celebrities for their time and familiar figures in the city. Although some of the keepers have retained that position (such as William Harn), others have become obscured by time and history.
One of these obscured keepers in our Light Station’s history is also perhaps the most important: William H. Russell. When Russell began working at the Light Station, there was only the single keeper position. The Lighthouse complex consisted of the tower and the Keeper’s House with a wall enclosing a courtyard. Russell started in April 1873 during the construction of the current tower and then resigned in April 1875. During his term, he oversaw the move from the old tower into the new one and most importantly, the lighting of the new first-order Fresnel lens. Other than his service at the light station, aspects of William Russell’s life remained unknown, and that is where I began looking for information.
online sources and the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library, I
have been able to gain a bit more information about Russell and his
family. Russell was born in 1854 and grew up in Orange Mills, Florida, a
community along the St. Johns River near Palatka. His father, Thomas T.
Russell, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, and moved to Florida in 1816 to
take advantage of the uncultivated land that the new frontier of Florida
offered to planters and farmers. This period between the end of the
Spanish occupation in Florida and Florida’s statehood sees an enormous flood of
planters and farmers into the territory from states to the north.
Florida’s acres of uncultivated, virgin land was supposedly capable of growing
anything in abundance including the cotton that by this time had drained
nutrients from the soil of plantations to the north of nutrients.
According to the 1850 census, Russell held 300 acres of land in St. Johns County and on January 18, 1861, he purchased another 40 acres of land in Putnam County along Dunn’s Lake (today Crescent Lake). The fact that he paid cash for the lands means that he was a successful planter since cash throughout the antebellum period and into the Civil War was a scarce commodity.
Russell’s role as a planter and his apparent wealth means that he held a
prominent place in the society of northeast Florida. In 1843, Russell is
named as the Receiver of Public Moneys in St. Augustine upon the resignation of
John Fontaine. Such positions placed planters like Russell in the
appointments of controlling federal and state assets including cash and land.
These positions were almost always political in nature. The planters, in
order to maintain their control over politics, often kept farmers and
landowners (from the lower classes) from these types of positions and, in turn,
rewarded each other with land grants and financial support to insure their
positions would remain intact. Therefore, we can assume Thomas Russell
maintained a prominent place within society and he uses that prominence and
becomes the publisher of a newspaper called the News. In the spring of
1845, he moved to Jacksonville to begin publishing a newspaper for the Whig
Party called the Florida Whig. He remains at the paper for a year
and then returns to St. Augustine.
all of this tells us about William Russell, Thomas’s son, is that it points to
a number of important elements about William Russell’s life. First,
remember that the St. Augustine of the 1840s is vastly smaller in population
than the city of today. Like other positions with the government (federal
or otherwise), the keeper position at St. Augustine was one that most people
defined as political in nature. Thomas Russell probably wielded his influence
and got his son, William, appointed as keeper. The work would have been
tough to be sure, but William grew up around farming so he was familiar with
hard work and he was only nineteen years old. However, once the move to
the new tower is complete, William resigns his position in 1875 and Francis
Philip Fatio Dunham assumes the keeper position at St. Augustine.
what becomes of William Russell following his time as keeper? On October 27,
1879, he marries Rosalia Baya, a member of a prominent Menorcan family in the
city. The priest who performs the ceremony, Father Stephen Langlade, is
from La Puy, France, the same city where the Sisters of St. Joseph departed for
St. Augustine. Therefore, we can assume that Bishop Verot, who invited
the Sisters to St. Augustine to teach the young people here, also asked
Langlade to come as well. Langlade met with much success in the Mill
Creek and Elkton communities among the Menorcan families living outside of St.
Augustine’s city limits.
Russell returns to serve in the St. Augustine Lighthouse under William Harn in 1880 and gets promoted to First Assistant but resigns again the following year. He remerges in 1886 as a clerk in the firm of Sabin, Moulton & Company, a local business selling general merchandise at the corner of Bridge and Marine Streets. Between 1880 and 1885, Rosalia dies and William has three children to raise without her. Around 1890, William enters into a partnership with John Brannon and opens a clothing store in St. Augustine. The partnership runs into trouble in 1893 when a New York firm sues the partners for nonpayment on the loan they received. As you might expect, the partnership dissolves and the inventory in the store is confiscated by Sheriff Perry to pay off the debt.
final mention of William Russell is an article from The St. Augustine Record
on June 14, 1900, that laments the loss of a man “well known in St.
Augustine, having been born and reared in this city.” This man is William
Russell. He died in the early morning around 5:30 am in the home of his
sister. The article does indicate that he suffered from ill health for
quite some time prior to his death. Although the article mentions that
Russell was buried in the Catholic cemetery, there is a record of his burial in
Evergreen Cemetery. I was not able to locate a headstone for him
I find most interesting about William Russell is how connected his family was
to the City of St. Augustine. His father served in several very powerful
political positions in the City and Russell received the benefit of that
connection. Like many other children of prominent citizens, William
married into another well connected family, the Baya family. Ironically
Russell was well poised for a position of political prominence as a plantation
owner with large landholdings, yet he turns his back on that lifestyle and
chooses rather to focus on being a merchant and occasionally a lighthouse
keeper. St. Augustine at this time is undergoing some changes itself which
William’s life indicates.
a frontier town, St. Augustine was becoming a wealthier and more important
city. As the population grew, the City’s trade connections
developed. Where does William Russell and his partner go to borrow funds for
their enterprise? They rely upon a New York firm suggesting that St.
Augustine’s port maintained very close ties to the trade coming in and out of
New York. St. Augustine was becoming a busier port and capable of
sustaining trade in luxury goods like fine clothing and fashion and there were
citizens there capable of sustaining a market for these items.
we look at the men and women of the St. Augustine Lighthouse, be aware of the
role that these people played not just in the history of the Light Station, but
within the history of the city. Most Light Stations were remote and functioned
without much interaction with the city or town they served; this was definitely
not the case here.
The first thing I noticed about the Dark of the Moon Tourwas that it was, indeed, very dark. The chill in the air may have been due to the setting sun or the spookiness of Halloween night. The Museum grounds, usually bright with sunlight, faded into the shadows of the trees which hovered around it. The only true source of light appeared in the beacon of its namesake: The Lighthouse.
After receiving my tickets, I rented an EMF meter to sense the electromagnetic fluctuations caused by any ghosts, mostly because I knew my best friend would glare at me all night if I didn’t.
The occasion of the evening only became more apparent as we stood outside of the Museum gift shop, waiting to be led on our spooky journey. Halloween shirts and costumes popped up sporadically in a few of the more festive guests. Promptly at 7:30 pm, our party was escorted to the base of the tower, where we learned the rules for the evening and split into groups. My group entered the Lighthouse first. We stood at the bottom of the tower and listened to the stories of ghosts seen in the past, especially the mysterious Shadow Figure who has been seen peering over the railing down at guests.
Perhaps the scariest moment of the evening came as we huffed our way up the 219 steps to the top of the Lighthouse. The exercise of it was frightening enough, but on top of that, the entire tower was shrouded in darkness, save for the few lanterns dangling along the way. Silhouetted figures painted on the walls of each landing invoked images of the Shadow Figure we’d just been told about.
Despite the fear and the height, everyone made it to the top and embraced the whipping chill of the wind. All of St. Augustine stretched below, hundreds of tiny lights peppering the ground. It was almost beautiful enough to make me forget the ghost story I was standing on.
Once the heat of the climb wore off and the wind became more chilling than relieving, the group made its way back down to the ground. Our guide led us around to the side of the Lighthouse, where she detailed the haunting tale of one Lightkeeper’s plummet from the original tower.
After catching our breath, we journeyed to the Keepers’ House. Stories of fatal accidents and irritable Lightkeepers filled the darkness. Each floor held new secrets about the history of the Keepers’ House. We ended in the basement, where we were released to explore on our own for the rest of the night.
The basement had the most activity of the evening. One man sat in one of the resident ghost’s favorite chairs. As the guest spoke to the room, EMF meters began lighting up red around his shoulders, indicating some paranormal activity. The more we spoke and scanned the room, the more lights lit up, travelling behind the chairs to the back of the room. Upstairs, we explored an area called the Shadow Room, where the energy of the room intensified as soon as we entered. My friend heard beeping in the corner as we searched the room for signs of ghostly activity.
The tour ended at 9:30 p.m., sending us back into the world to reflect on our supernatural experiences. Even with the Lighthouse looming behind us, we carried the eeriness with us into the festive evening. The tour might have been even spookier because of Halloween, but it was also even more fun because of it. As our guide told us, the Museum is “not a haunted house, just haunted.” And on Halloween, when the spiritual veil is said to be thinnest, it’s always possible the ghosts will make a special appearance, just for you.
The World War II-era United States Coast Guard (USCG) structure on site is currently being restored after serving as office space for many years at the Museum. The structure was constructed after the US entered into World War II. Before December 1941, the US military was in various stages of mobilization that included increasing military personnel, munitions and equipment.
As war was declared, there was rapid action to train troops and prepare the US for overseas warfare. As the US prepared to enter into multiple war fronts, plans were developed and initiated for home front security. As part of this process, the USCG fell under direction of the US Navy. The Museum’s collections provide a glimpse into some of these rapidly developing events and the role the Lighthouse and Light Station played during the wartime effort. We are fortunate enough to have some of the original Keepers’ records here at the Museum.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, military actions were intensified. Lighthouses along our coastline were immediately designated coastal lookouts serving to monitor boat traffic and identify any German U-boats in a region that would pose as an immediate threat. The US military forces, including the USCG, initiated routine patrol to guard our shorelines, albeit with limited resources. Coastal defense needed additional support and the USCG developed a series of infrastructure series of lookout towers strategically placed along the coastline. Additionally, a beach patrol was established on the coast with a combination of coastguardsmen: on foot with patrol dogs, on horseback and in some areas, in Jeeps. Training centers were established for this new defense effort and local infrastructure further grew to protect our coastlines from saboteurs and to help identify foreign invaders.
At our Lighthouse, the strategy was to construct a coastal lookout dwelling; it was finished and occupied in 1942. The dwelling (aka the Barracks) was built to house at least four coastguardsmen. Their job was to be on duty at the top of the tower 24/7, and report boat traffic (among other things) as part of the coastal defensive system. Unfortunately, there is limited documentation regarding this structure, but some information has been gleaned from past renovation projects as well as some of our original Keepers’ records. A Barracks reroofing project years ago produced a couple of fascinating finds. Among the layers of the former roofing projects, interesting details emerged surrounding construction activity at the Light Station. Original roof material was still present beneath a replacement metal roof. When this metal was removed, examples of original shingles were found! On the reverse side of these shingles was the name and location of the local manufacturer (nearby Palatka).
The other amazing find was a section of roofing liner below the wood shingles with a portion of it signed by the individuals believed to have laid the roofing material, as well as the person who completed the electrical work. The fragments of paper are amazingly preserved and one can still clearly read the date of “April 28th 1942” for when the work was completed, and that the laborers were from Daytona Beach (possibly an indication of how busy it was in St. Augustine).
By the beginning of May, keeper correspondence suggests the structure is ready for occupation with mentions that the furniture has arrived (including a studio couch, for those who are curious). As staff has conducted searches in correspondence, we have previously been able to note some timeline issues or like most construction projects, a “delay” or “problem” during construction. For example, the coastal dwelling Keeper correspondence from August 1942 indicates the structure and wiring are complete, but additional work is required in order to connect to the main power line. We have also discovered that our first coastguardsmen reporting for lookout duty arrived in July 1942.
A copy of Keeper Daniels’ official report to superiors notes their arrival, and that yet again the dwelling is not quite ready for occupation. When we examine the roster of who arrives, one name is familiar to us: H.D. Defee. He is of interest to us because Defee’s name was previously found etched in concrete by the garage of the same time period. Interestingly, we know the concrete work was completed in 1944 so apparently he had at least a couple stints at the Lighthouse during the war. Restoration projects often reveal history that would not ever be found in any record. This is the case here at the Lighthouse. We suspect that as the restoration project continues, we are sure to find additional surprises!
Contributed by Chief Curator Jason Titcomb, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes