Tag Archives: William Harn

Lighthouse History 1874 – 1894 (Part II)

This third installment in our ongoing series on the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse continues the story of lighthouse keeper William Harn and his wife, Kate.
Click below to read previous installments of the series:
Lighthouse History Pre-1874
Lighthouse History 1874-1894 (Part I)

Charleston, SC 1860…

The presence of a (now) foreign army on their land was untenable for the newly independent South Carolina. Upon succession, US. Army Major Robert Anderson evacuated Fort Moultrie after sabotaging the military hardware there and relocated all troops to Fort Sumter, isolated as it was by its location on an island in Charleston Harbor. William Harn was among the Union troops at Fort Sumter, while Kate’s family stayed with her father, Ordinance Sergeant James Skillen at Castle Pinckney, another much smaller harbor fort.

Castle Pinckney
Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor

On December 27, 1860, months before the “first shots of the war” occurred at Fort Sumter, state militia attacked Castle Pinckney and seized the fortification without a fight, there being only James Skillen and Lieutenant R.K. Meade of the engineers present to protest. Captain Abner Doubleday, second-in-command to Major Anderson, called it “the first overt act of the Secessionists against the sovereignty of the United States.”

In his Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-‘61, Doubleday recalled the moment when a South Carolina militiaman spotted Kate Skillen, then 15 years old, “weeping bitterly at the ramparts” following the fall of Castle Pinckney. After he assured her that they meant her no harm she replied, “I am not crying because I am afraid…I am crying because you have put that miserable rag up there,” referring to the Palmetto flag the militia raised in place of the American flag. Continue reading

Lighthouse History 1874 – 1894 (Part I)

This second installment in the ongoing series on the history of the St. Augustine Lighthouse begins with the construction of the current lighthouse in 1874 and takes us to the story of William Harn and his family, the first head keeper’s family to live in the current Keepers’ House.

Click below to read previous installments of the series:
Lighthouse History Pre-1874

1874 – 1894: Designing a New Lighthouse

By 1874, the lighthouses popping up along the Atlantic Coast dwarfed the Old Spanish Watchtower. Because the effective range of a beacon increases as its height increases, replacing the old tower with a taller one solved the problem of eroding shorelines while improving visibility and safety along the St. Augustine coast. Placed more or less at sea level, Atlantic Coast lighthouses required significant elevation to ensure their lights were visible a sufficient distance.

As the Atlantic Ocean crept toward the old lighthouse foundation, the Lighthouse Board began planning for its replacement. Congress appropriated $60,000 to acquire land and build a new lighthouse. After purchasing a 5-acre tract a half mile from the old tower, the Lighthouse Board chief draftsman Paul Pelz submitted the new tower’s architectural design. Pelz would go on to gain fame as the designer of the Library of Congress.

In June of 1872, Hezekiah Pittee, as Superintendent of Lighthouse Construction, began work on the new tower. Funding shortfalls delayed the project and by 1873, Pittee only had 42 ½ feet of tower completed. Work wrapped up in 1874, with “the fittings of the oil and work rooms, casing the windows and doors, giving the outside of the tower another coat of color, and grading and paving around the tower” being the last few tasks before the tower was ready for service. The total cost of construction was $100,000. Continue reading

History of the Harn Family at the
St. Augustine Lighthouse

Who were the Harns?

In our new interactive exhibit, At Home with the Harns, you can experience life as it was for Head Keeper William Harn and his family. Harn served at the St. Augustine Light Station from 1875-1889 where he and his family were the first residents of the Victorian Keepers’ House.

But who were the Harns? How did they come to be in St. Augustine?

William & Kate’s Marriage

St. Augustine Lighthouse Keeper, Brevet Major William Harn of Philadelphia, enlisted in the United States Army in 1854 at the age of 19.

Some years later, as a private, he was sent to Fort Moultrie, S.C., where he met the daughter of Ordnance Sergeant James Skillen.  Her name was Kate.

Harn was transferred to Fort Sumter, S.C., where he was when the Confederate Bombardment occurred and the Civil War began.   He and Kate were married in Rome, New York, at the Rome Arsenal on June 2, 1863.  He was 28 and she was 19.

Harn and the Battle of Gettysburg

3rd NY BatteryAfter a 10 day furlough for this “very important personal business,” on June 5th he marched with the 3rd NY Independent Battery, as part of the VI Corps toward Gettysburg, PA.  He arrived there on the 2nd day of the battle bringing 119 men and six 10 pounder parrot rifles.  He had held command of the Battery for less than a month, having been promoted in June. Continue reading