Category Archives: Miscellaneous

The Lamp Changer

Did you know that the Lighthouse can change its own lightbulb? Well, it can and has been doing so for many years now. In 1936, electricity was first brought to the Lighthouse. This meant significant changes for the Lighthouse keepers since they no longer had to carry buckets of kerosene to the top of the lighthouse to burn in the lamp to create the light. Now light bulbs did the work of producing the light! But the keepers still had to stay up all night to make certain that the light bulb didn’t burn out, and that if it did, they were there to replace it.

Carlisle & Finch Lamp Changer in place in the Lighthouse lens room.

Years later, an innovative company in Cincinnati, Ohio came up with an answer to help make life easier for lighthouse keepers – a lamp changer for lighthouses! The Carlisle & Finch Company, the “Global Leader in Spotlight Technology,” specializes in the production of high quality optical products for a range of maritime uses, including within the United States Coast Guard and Navy.

Our lamp changer holds two, 1000-watt bulbs. The one in the center, or primary position (the large bulb on the left), is the operational bulb. The one to the right is in the backup position. If the primary bulb burns out, the electrical circuit is broken, releasing a switch. A spring at the base of the bulb’s housing piece then rotates the backup bulb to the primary position, where it snaps into place and completes the circuit. The backup bulb comes on automatically.

Here, I am holding the lamp (bulb) in the halfway position.

Did you notice that the bulbs look very different? The larger bulb is an historic 1000-watt GE bulb that is no longer made. The smaller bulb is the replacement that GE came out with a few years ago; it is also a 1000-watt bulb. The smaller bulb sits upon a ceramic block that serves two purposes: it dissipates heat so that the bulb lasts longer, and it places the filament at the same height as the older bulbs so that the focal plane of the light shines correctly through the lens. The old bulbs are so old (some dating to WWII) that we don’t know how long they will last, so we always put a new bulb in the backup position. If we used two old bulbs, they might both burn out on the same night, which as St. Augustine’s navigation beacon, would become a crisis situation. We only have a certain number of the old bulbs left, and once they are gone, it will be the end of an era. Our Lighthouse will then have two of the new bulbs in place, and thankfully, if the bulb changer ever wears out, the Carlisle & Finch Company is still in business to help us replace it.

Contributed by Director of Museum Services Rick Cain, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

Archaeologists + Dating = Success Through Collaboration

The past three months have been very busy for our Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) archaeologists. They have been analyzing artifacts discovered on the Museum property during last summer’s construction of the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center, as well as sites through St. Johns and Flagler Counties uncovered during the storms.

Our analysis started by contacting Dr. Lee Newsom, a Professor of Anthropology at Flagler College. Dr. Newsom is an expert in examining preserved plant remains from archaeological and paleontological sites as well as examining faunal remains, or bones! We were looking to determine the types of animals found in the trash pits uncovered during construction of the new Center. Once the bones were handed over, Dr. Newsom and her students at Flagler College went to work on identifying the types of animals in these pits. They came back with incredible data.

Dr. Lee Newsom directs Flagler College students on bone identification.

There are three areas we uncovered and examined: an 1880s trash pit to the north of the northern-most outdoor brick kitchen, a trash pit dating to the 1900s, and a 1930s pit near the Tin Pickle. Many of the bones in all three areas were identified as cow bones – meaning the keepers here had access to various cuts of beef on the island. Other bones included deer, turtle, snapper and turkey. All of these animals could have been caught on or around the Light Station. This knowledge brings to light the foodways of the Lightkeepers.

We also tasked Dr. Newsom and her students with dating our wood samples taken from the November canoe discovery. This canoe had shifted around during the high tides following Hurricane Irma and became quickly exposed as the high tides and storm surge subsided. To further understand the canoe, wood samples were taken by a joint team of Museum Archaeologists  and the Florida Public Archaeology Network of Northeast Florida. Tests of these samples would yield dates and a wood species. Speciation is determined by looking at the wood at a cellular level and identifying grain patterns within the wood. From their microscopic data based on one of two wood samples taken from the canoe, Dr. Newsom and her students determined the canoe to be made of cypress. Dating wood is a slow process, and only requires a tiny sliver of wood to complete. The second of the two wood samples was sent to the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The wood is dated using radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating looks at the amount of Carbon 14 remaining in a decaying piece of floral or faunal remains. As life stops exchanging Carbon 14 with the environment upon death and Carbon 14 decays at a constant rate, the older the piece being sampled, the less Carbon 14 will be present in the wood.

Wood sample taken from canoe for dating and speciation.

The analysis determined that the canoe is 830 years old ± 30 years, from 1950. From today’s date, that translates to a dating of 1000 CE. This is well before the Spanish ever laid foot in Florida. While this does not make our canoe one of the oldest in the state, it is believed to be one of the oldest in Northeast Florida.

LAMP and FPAN archaeologists examine the dugout canoe.

Now that the hardest date to obtain – that of the canoe- was determined, the LAMP team moved on to finding dates for our artifacts! The artifacts discovered on site (pottery, children’s toys, housewares) provided us with dates through historical research based on shape and maker’s marks present on individual objects.

Further research can be done into both the Light Station and the canoe to provide a fuller history of the northeast region of Florida. We appreciate the willingness of Dr. Lee Newsom and her students as well as the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at UGA to aid us in discovering new areas to be explored regarding this wider maritime history.

Contributed by Archaeologist Allyson Ropp, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

Anastasia Sailing

The day dawned bright and beautiful. And it had been a long-awaited day. The Florida skipjack, Anastasia, which was built at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum’s

Volunteer boat builders get her rigging ready as they launch out.

Heritage Boatworks, launched in July. She was christened with the name of the island she was built on. Her first sailing sea trial, delayed by the construction and opening of our new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center, took place the morning of February 7, 2018. Like many of St. Augustine’s historic working watercraft, the Florida skipjack’s origins are elsewhere. The vessel type originated in the nineteenth-century as a working watercraft on Long Island Sound. They were used there in the oyster business and other fisheries. The craft type was brought to Florida by Captain Watrous, possibly a local pronunciation of Waterhouse, who arrived in the Jacksonville area from Essex on the Connecticut River on Long Island Sound in about 1850.

Watrous built and introduced the type to the St. Johns River and the surrounding coastal waters, including St. Augustine, where they became a common sight on the waterfront. These craft were used in the local shad fishing industry, which typically ran from January through March. Working Florida skipjacks supplied the distant markets of New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and more distant inland cities with catches which were first transshipped to Savannah and from there they continued by rail. In the off-season, Florida’s skipjacks were also used to haul local cargoes such as oranges.

St. Augustine skipjack docked on the bayfront of St. Augustine. Photo courtesy of St. Augustine Historical Society.

Our craft, Anastasia, is a faithful replica of one of these historic watercraft. The original skipjack, upon which ours is based, was built between 1875 and 1880 by a boat carpenter named McCabe on Dunns Creek in the vicinity of Jacksonville. The craft was documented and drawn in 1936 during the Great Depression by members of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project called the Historic American Merchant Marine Survey. Her construction plans (twenty pages of field notes with measured drawings) and photos all correspond to Survey 8-46. This information was used to build a faithful replica of the original.

Anastasia sailing on February 7th.

Anastasia sails like a dream! She is fast and very responsive to the helm. She points very close to the wind and goes about with ease.  She is a beautiful craft! A few adjustments to her rig will be made before she returns to the water next week. Look for her on the bayfront. She will be flying the Lighthouse pennant!

Contributed by Director of Heritage Boat Works Dr. Sam Turner, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

When It’s Raining in the Lighthouse

We recently had to close the Lighthouse to our climbing guests due to moisture in the Tower.  This is an interesting phenomenon that occurs, at least in my experience, only in the month of January. January is the month where we experience our coldest temperatures here in Northeast Florida, and this year was no exception. Several nights here on Anastasia Island, the temperature reached to below freezing. During these conditions, the bricks and mortar, granite and marble, that form the Tower, as well as the cast iron landings, stairs and railings, all become very cold to the touch and remain that way on the until the air flowing to the inside of the Tower warms them up again. Then, seemingly suddenly, as temperatures outside increase, a warm air mass with very high humidity surrounds and enters the Tower. As this warm air moves inside the Tower and comes in contact with the very cold surfaces, the water in the air condenses into droplets on all of those cold surfaces. During these times, every surface in the Tower is literally dripping wet, and water can be seen running down the inside walls. We always say, “It’s raining in the Tower”. No amount of wiping or mopping will make any difference until the interior surfaces of brick and iron warm sufficiently to begin to evaporate the water. This usually takes a day or two of significantly warmer air temperatures combined with lower humidity.

A recent foggy night which led to the unprecedented Tower shadow and subsequent morning closures due to “raining in the Tower”.

This same effect can be seen all around our country in the early spring as warmer air moves over the cold ground of the countryside and steamy fog begins to rise off of the frosty fields.

So if you come to visit us in January, you may be able to witness this rare phenomenon in person, but bring your rain gear. It may be raining in the Lighthouse.

Contributed by Director of Museum Services Rick Cain, edited by Student Intern Jayda Barnes

Lighting the Way

When it comes to lighthouses, lots of folks have lots of questions:

  1. Do they really need these things anymore?
  2. Does it still work? 
  3. What time does the light come on?

The answer to all three is a resounding “yes”!

You see, navigational lights along our nation’s coastlines are just as important for ship captains and mariners as runway and airport lights are for airline pilots. Just imagine telling airline pilots that they don’t need those runway lights because they have all of those instruments in their cockpits. The truth is, we still use our eyes more than any other of our five senses. Ship captains train for a very long time to be able to navigate a vessel in and around dangerous inlets and waterways and rely on coastal lights to tell them the same thing that their instruments are telling them. Just imagine if their instruments stopped working?

So does it still work? Yes! The St. Augustine Lighthouse still functions as a private aid to navigation for the U.S. Coast Guard and is the navigational beacon for St. Augustine, Florida. It really is simply a reference point along the coast telling ships where they are. Beginning in 1789, the U.S. Lighthouse Service eventually built one large navigational beacon (lighthouse), every sixty miles, on every coast of America. The purpose is so that ships can stay well offshore in deep water where they know they are safe, and every sixty miles there is a light telling them their exact position along the coast. Smaller buoys and lights are used to mark inlets and channels. The focal plane of the light needs to be approximately 160 feet above sea level so that the light is visible many miles out to sea. In the southeast United States where the land is very low and flat, many tall towers had to be built to get the light to this level as opposed to a location that has a 130 foot bluff.  In that location you would only need a 30 foot tall lighthouse to reach 160 feet like the lighthouse at Split Rock, Minnesota on Lake Superior for example. Some lighthouses can have a focal plane of closer to 200 feet above sea level, like Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Heceta Head, Oregon.  

Each light has different characteristics so you tell which one you are seeing. The “daymark” is simply a physical description of the lighthouse structure from the sea. But many of the tall towers looked the same and were thus assigned a special mark or fancy paint job so you can identify them more easily. Our daymark is black and white spiral stripes with a red lantern on top. At night, each light has a different flash pattern, or “nightmark”, so you can easily identify them after dark. The St. Augustine Lighthouse has a “30-second fixed flash.” This means that the light is visible all of the time at night, and it also flashes every thirty seconds. No other lighthouse has this “nightmark.” Each light’s distinguishing characteristics are published for ship captains in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation (ATON) guide as well as in books and computer programs.

Even though we still have keepers here at the Lighthouse, our Lighthouse is automated. An electric motor turns our first-order Fresnel lens to create the flash every 30 seconds while a photo cell on the west side of the tower turns the light on when the sun sets and off after the sun rises. We keepers ensure that the automated systems are working and the original lens rotation mechanism is well oiled and maintained.

P.S.  Our Lighthouse even changes its own lightbulb! More on that in another entry.

Post contributed by Rick Cain, Director of Museum Services Division