Lighthouse Depots by Wayne Wheeler and Thomas Tag
Since the establishment of the first lighthouse at Boston Harbor’s Little Brewster Island in 1716, lighthouses have needed supplies. Our first lighthouse keeper, George Worthylake, ferried his supplies to the Boston Lighthouse via rowboat. But as the service grew and the number of light stations increased, more than rowboats were needed.
The materials the government furnished light stations and the means of furnishing them varied over the years. Until 1852 lighthouses were a collateral duty of the local Collector of Customs. It was his duty to authorize contracts for constructing light stations, repairing existing stations, and providing supplies. It was also his duty to ensure the stations were up to snuff though routine inspections. However, federal investigations of our lighthouse service in the 1830’s, 40’s and early 50’s revealed that many stations were in poor condition, not properly maintained or operated and lacked necessary supplies.
In 1810 Winslow Lewis, an unemployed sea captain, convinced the government to purchase his patent for a parabolic reflector-lamp apparatus, a lamp design, which in fact, had been invented some years before by Ami Argand, a Swiss scientist. Lewis also secured the government contract to furnish the lamps and supplies for all the federal lighthouses for $27,000 per year. An award of $60,000 was made to Lewis $20,000 for the patent, the remainder to install the reflector system in all 49 government lighthouses and to maintain them for seven years. He was later awarded contracts to furnish supplies to lighthouses and even construct new stations. Many of his rubble stone towers failed within a few years, mostly due to poor mortar.
During the first half of the 19th century each Collector of Customs established (in the areas for which he was responsible) crude buoy depots, sometimes merely a designated portion of a public pier, at which to store spare buoys, chain and sinkers. General supplies were furnished by civilian contractors using their own vessels. Winslow Lewis “won” the contract for about 20 years and then a Mr. C. Grinnel, Jr. obtained the contract for the next years, followed by C.W. Morgan & Co.
From 1839, until the Lighthouse Board was established in 1852, brothers Jonathan & Joseph Howland, both captains, were employed by the government to furnish supplies to all American lighthouses (Atlantic & Gulf coasts, Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Lake Ponchartrain). Captain Jonathan Howland chartered his schooner Eliza to the government for $700 a month. These rates included the vessel, all lighthouse supplies, their salaries and those of the crew. Still, $8,400 a year, in Jonathan’s case, was a tidy sum in those years.
In 1852 the Lighthouse Board was established to investigate the condition and operation of America’s light stations. They inspected several stations, sent two officers to Europe to learn what was happening on that continent. They also questioned, in grueling detail, the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury (Stephen Pleasonton) who was the Superintendent of Lighthouses, the Collector of Customs for the Boston District (Greely) and the Howlands. The Board asked who tested oils and equipment, inquired about the condition of the supplies, the conduct of the keepers, condition of the stations and asked for recommendations to improve the system. Pleasonton gave vague answers. The district superintendent thought everything was handled very well and materials and equipment tested scientifically under his supervision. Captain Howland stated his operation was shipshape, but owned up to the fact that the conditions of the stations, and manner in which they were kept, could use improvement. He defended his operation and when informed that several keepers complained of poor quality of the supplies, blamed the keepers for being untrained”…very deficient in information, as to the proper manner in keeping their lights…” especially among new keepers. He further blamed the “spoils” system for the poor grade of keeper.
After the Civil War ca 1866 the Lighthouse Board realized that there was a need for a super depot, a facility to receive and test or inspect all oil, lenses and supplies before transferring the material to the various district depots. The site chosen was federal property on Staten Island, NY at Tompkinsville. In the 1867 Report to Congress the Board reported, “Prior to the establishment of this depot the reserve material for the lighthouse service was stored in several districts, involving the necessity for a multiplication of storage buildings mechanics, workmen, supplies of all kinds, apparatus, etc., and it frequently happened that articles were purchased for use in one district when there was an excess of the same in other districts. To reduce to the minimum the supply of the service and the consequence expense, it was evident that there must be one storehouse, one workshop, one oil vault, etc., gathered together at one spot and called a depot, from which all needed supplies and apparatus could be issued as they might be wanted, upon requisitions from the inspectors or engineers of the several districts, approved at the office of the Lighthouse Board. For convenience of purchase and shipment, it was just as evident that this depot must be at or in the immediate vicinity of New Your City.”
Staten Island 3rd District Depot ca 1905
The Board requested, and was awarded $50,000, to procure suitable land and construct various buildings. They found unused property on Staten Island already under control of the government called the “revenue grounds.” The Board further reported, “The depot thus established very soon proved its usefulness, even far beyond what had been anticipated… Although it was expected that the business of the depot would be large, it has far exceeded the expectations, and it was demonstrated that there neither sufficient room nor facilities to ensure the best practical results or to answer all the demands made upon the depot.”
To expand their operations an appropriation was made to purchase a strip of land on the north side of the lot from the state. The service also acquired the remainder of the Revenue grounds abutting the depot.
The annual report went on to state, “Among the buildings acquired in the recent transfer are two storehouses, which are very old and far to weak for lighthouse storage purposes. It is proposed to take them down and use the material in building a new storehouse, uniform with the one first constructed, for which purpose no new appropriation is required.
“To avoid all danger from fire, which should not be permitted in the store houses, it is proposed to put up a small building for offices for the district inspector, engineer, etc…
“Arrangements have been made at this depot for testing oils offered by contractors and for experimenting with lamps, apparatus, etc., used in the service. These arrangements are yet limited, but will be extended in accordance with the results obtained.”
And extended they were. The Tompkinsville Depot grew into a monster facility. The service received all the oil at Staten Island, tested it, repackaged and shipped it to the districts. Lenses arriving from Europe, wicks, oil and other materials were tested and inspected. Illumination tests were conducted on new lamps and some apparatus was invented at the depot. Most of the brass implements (service box, dust pan, etc.) were actually manufactured at the depot. The site also housed the offices of the Third District superintendent (the title District Inspector was changed to Superintendent in 1918). The service tenders and spare lightships for that district were moored along the wharf. In the 1920’s 200 people were employed at the General Depot on Staten Island.
As the individual districts became properly manned and fully functional they each built or rented small storage facilities near where the district tender was moored. It was not until the late 1860s, after the Civil War, that each district requested a formal lighthouse depot for the storage of critical supplies and for the establishment of a district machine shop, carpenter shop, and lampist shop.
The storehouse was used to store items such as wicks, glass chimneys, keeper’s tools, and oil for the lamps. In addition whale oil and later lard oil and kerosene were tested at each supply depot to be sure they were of the high quality needed for use in the lighthouses. The storehouse was run by a custodian.
The machine shop produced cast-iron buoys and cement buoy sinkers and made repairs to the tender as required. In the large locations a fulltime machinist operated the machine shop. His assistants were assigned to the tender, but worked in the machine shop as necessary. In the smaller locations the machinist on the tender and his assistants operated the machine shop when in port. This shop also produced some repair parts for the lampist when needed. The machinist was responsible for the clockwork and rotation mechanisms under the Fresnel Lenses. The machinist installed these rotation items and the pedestals of the fixed lenses when new lighthouses were built and maintained them throughout the life of each lighthouse.
The carpenter shop produced wooden boxes, trim materials and, sometimes, wooden buoys and did general carpentry work throughout the district as lighthouses were built or repaired. The carpenter shop did not have fulltime employees. The carpenters were actually assigned to the tender and used the carpenter shop in the depot when between trips and during the winter months.
The lampist shop was in charge of the assembly of all Fresnel Lenses and the proper set-up of all lamps within the district. The lampist was a full time employee and in the larger locations had one or more assistants. The lampist rebuilt lamps and did minor repairs to the Fresnel Lenses and was in charge of their installation as new lighthouses were built.
Often stationed at, and operating out of, the depots were Field Construction Forces, although they were officially attached to the District office. The force was composed of carpenters, painters, masons, mechanics and laborers. These field crews did the repair and upkeep work on permanent aids (including light stations) and other aids, which could not be conveniently moved to the depot shops. Often the district used the Force to construct new aids and make major repairs to light stations. Although the keepers of the light stations were required to make minor repairs and do general painting and cleaning, sometimes a project such as rebuilding a barn or a garage was beyond the capability of the station personnel.
There was a hierarchy of depots as follows:
The National Depot was located within the Third District on Staten Island and functioned as the source of most supplies, lamps, lenses and repair parts for the entire Lighthouse Service.
The districts each had a supply, repair, and buoy depot located where the district Inspector and Engineer were stationed along with the mooring facilities for the district tender(s). This was the largest and sometimes the only depot within the district. Some supplies were purchased locally and repairs were made to the district’s tender(s) and lightship(s). Buoys were also manufactured in this depot and the district machine shop, carpenter shop and lampist shop were located here.
Large districts may also have had a second kind of depot known as a Buoy Repair and Storage Depot where buoys were repaired, buoy sinkers were manufactured, and buoys were stored. This depot would also be a possible location for the mooring of tenders and/or lightships during the winter.
Finally, a third type of depot for only the storage of buoys with no other facilities was sometimes maintained in large districts.
The Detroit Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot
The Eleventh District began in 1854 and included a small storage building in Detroit. The Detroit Supply and Buoy Depot was used to cover all operations on Lake Michigan as well as lakes Superior and Huron from its inception until the Ninth District was formed and finally had its own depot in 1893. What follows is a chronology of the Detroit Supply and Buoy Depot taken directly from the Annual Reports of the Lighthouse Board.
1860 A dock and storehouse have been erected at Detroit.
1869 Since the last annual report no change has occurred at the lighthouse depot in Detroit. The grounds occupied for the purpose belong to the government, and were recently transferred to the Lighthouse Establishment for its permanent use and occupation.
Plans for the general improvement of this depot have been agreed upon by the Engineer and Inspector of the eleventh district, but have not yet been acted upon by the Board. The present condition of the depot is such that, with slight repairs, it will answer the purpose for a time yet. It is not proposed at present to take any steps, which will require an appropriation especially applicable to the work.
1870 The grounds at this depot are being filled in and graded, and necessary small repairs to the wharf, etc. made. All the oil and other supplies for the lighthouses on the lakes are received at, and distributed from, this depot. The small temporary storehouse of wood is not only inadequate in size and unadapted to the service, but is unsafe for the storage of such valuable combustible property as is necessarily deposited for annual and incidental distribution.
Plans are in preparation for the erection of a suitable fireproof vault and storehouse for oil and other supplies, and for a lamp shop for the repair of lamps, revolving machinery, etc., for the numerous lights on the lakes. The wharf and dock serve for laying up the tender during the winter, where it will be safe from the effects of running ice, and a place for storing and repairing during the winter all buoys and their equipments. An estimate has been included and submitted in annual estimates for the sum of $25,000 for the next fiscal year.
1871 Work on this has progressed, though not so rapidly as was desired. A bulkhead has been built across the entire front of the lot, and the basin has been dredged out to a uniform depth of 10 feet, thus giving sufficient room to accommodate all the lighthouse vessels. Enough of the dredged material was deposited behind the bulkhead to fill up the low ground to the height of the bulkhead, thus forming an excellent yard for the storage of buoys and other heavy material.
The depot building, forty by sixty feet in plan, and entirely fireproof, has been carried up to a sufficient height to admit of the completion of the second floor. The cellar for the storage of the supply of oil forms the basement of the building. It is very desirable to complete this building, so much needed. The dark room in which to test the oils delivered under contract is to be located in the story above that now completed, and the work should go on. Wherever the work is stopped now, a temporary roof must be thrown over it to protect it from the weather, which will add considerably to the cost of the building.
When the building was designed it appeared to be of ample size, but it is now plainly seen that there will be no room to spare. An estimate is submitted.
1872 The fireproof storehouse of the lighthouse depot Detroit was carried up two stories above the basement, and then covered with a temporary roof during last season. A line of sheet piling was driven along the western line of the lot between the basin and the adjoining glue factory. By act of Congress approved June 10, 1872, the sum of $25,000 was appropriated for this work, and will, it is thought, be sufficient to complete it.
The first work undertaken under this appropriation will be the erection of a suitable dwelling for the storekeeper and a close board fence along the top of the sheet piling referred to. As soon as practicable it is also proposed to finish the storehouse. This depot is already of great value, and its advantages will increase from year to year.
1873 Under the act of June 10, 1872, the work on the lighthouse depot at Detroit has progressed during the year. A dwelling for the storekeeper was built and enclosed by a fence, and is occupied. A board fence was erected along the western side of the basin, between that and the adjoining glue factory. Towards the close of last season the walls of the third story of the storehouse were finished to receive the brackets, and covered with a temporary roof to protect it from the weather while operations were suspended for the winter.
In April 1873, the work was resumed, the temporary roof removed, and the construction of the fireproof roof of iron and slate carried to completion. Floors of wood were laid in some of the rooms, great care being exercised to see that the space between them and the supporting arches were completely filled with sand well rammed in. The landing pier is completely worn out. It has been repaired until the supporting piles are no longer safe. No heavy weight can now be landed upon it, and an appropriation of $3,000 for building is urgently recommended. The supply of oil for the entire region is landed at this depot, and as the system of lights on the lakes increases, the importance of this depot increases. Designed less than five years ago, upon a scale, which was then deemed ample, it is already apparent that some extension of the buildings and conveniences will be required before many years, in order to secure all the benefits of the depot.
1874 During the year work was continued on this important depot until the money was all expended. The grounds around the building were graded, as far as they could be; the slopes were sodded; the platform of the front door laid; the sashes for all the windows hung; and the elevator constructed; the front door and two doors in the basement all of iron were hung; the basement flooring laid and all the flooring; partition and hand railing in the attic and both (temporary) doors constructed; the iron work, both inside and outside of the building, painted with one coat for protection; about 60 feet of the small brick drain running through the depot lot and with which the depot and keeper’s dwelling are drained were taken up and renewed, to perfect the drainage; an oil testing room has been fitted up, and slight damage to the roof of the building, caused by high winds, has been repaired. In this depot is stored the entire supply of oil for the whole lake region, all the valuable material used or to be used in this district, and also some from the tenth district, and it therefore should have an appropriation to complete it and make it perfectly fire-proof. The landing pier is in a dilapidated and very unsafe condition. The piles and planking are very rotten and no heavy weight can be landed on it. To complete this depot and to build a new landing pier will require an appropriation of $10,000, which is earnestly recommended.
1875 Congress, at its last session, made an appropriation of $10,000 to complete the work on this important depot. Work under this appropriation was begun in May. The new dock is nearly completed, and all the iron shutters and doors for the fireproof storehouse are in place.
Detroit Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot.
1876 The appropriation of $10,000 made by Congress at its last session was expended in removing the old dock and building a new one, dredging out the slips on either side of the new dock, and providing new iron doors and shutters for the storehouse. Some old buildings have been torn down and the grounds graded, the premises enclosed with an iron fence, an iron buoy and boat shed built, a car track laid from the storehouse and buoy and boat shed to the end of the dock, slopes sodded, etc. It is intended to complete the depot this season.
1877 The new fireproof storehouse has been practically completed, the old and dangerous wooden buildings removed, the grounds graded, a new crane erected upon the wharf for loading and unloading vessels, and moorings placed for their use.
1878 The building and keeper’s dwelling are in good condition. The grounds have been improved by roading, planting trees, etc.
1879 The building is in good repair. The northwest corner of its foundation is slightly cracked, probably caused by the action of the frost, and not by settling.
1880 The storehouse, Keeper’s dwelling, and buoy shed of this depot are in good repair. During the year the foundation of the storehouse has been repointed where injured by frost, new plank walks have been laid on the grounds, and the wharf repaired.
1881 There were no improvements made during the year to either the grounds or buildings at the depot. The station is in good order and condition, and, except from its proximity to several factories and furnaces, is well adapted to lighthouse purposes.
1882 There have been no improvements made during the past year to the buildings or grounds, except that part of the walk has been replanked. It is in good order.
1883 The erection of a buoy and boat shed, carpenter shop, lampist’s room, and brick wall for the west side of the lighthouse depot lot was commenced in May. On the 30th of June, all the masonry was completed, the material for the flooring was purchased, and contract was made for iron work for the roof, slating, tin work, plumbing, and removal of the old buoy shed to the east side of the lot.
1884 The depot and grounds are in good condition and admirably adapted to their use. The removal of the old corrugated iron buoy shed from the west to the east side of the lot was completed, the roof of the building was renewed, and its sides and ends repaired. It is now used as a storehouse for machinery, tools etc. The new buoy shed, carpenter shop, and lampist’s room were completed in December, except the plastering of the inside of the roof between purloins with cement mortar, which was finished in May 1884. A new mast was provided for the derrick on the dock.
1885 Repairs were made in the fall to the floor of the corrugated iron shed on the east side of the lot. The building is now in fair condition. The depot and grounds are in excellent condition. The waterfront, which was caving out, was thoroughly built up, and the wharf was repaired.
1886 The depot and grounds are in good order. Some repairs were made to the wharf this spring. On July 26, 1886 an act of Congress was approved which provided that “The Lighthouse Board shall arrange the ocean, gulf, and river coasts of the United States into lighthouse districts not exceeding sixteen in number.”
The Lighthouse Board met on November 3, 1886 and ordered that the Eleventh Lighthouse District be divided into two new districts: the Ninth District and the Eleventh District. On March 15, 1887 the Lighthouse Board directed Commander Charles E. Clark the newly appointed inspector of the Ninth District to proceed at once to Chicago to procure offices for the new district. He was then to go to Detroit where he would meet with his counterpart in the Eleventh District and begin the task of separating the paperwork and other items associated with the new Ninth District. It was decided that as of March 31, 1887 the district would be split and on April 1, 1887 the operation of the new Ninth District commenced.
The Ninth District served just Lake Michigan and the new Eleventh District now served Lakes Huron and Superior. Since the new Ninth District had no depot it continued to use the Detroit Supply and Buoy Depot for several years.
1887 The depot and grounds are in good order.
(Photo from the Chad Kaiser Collection) The Chicago Ninth District Offices.
1888 The depot and grounds are in good order. The walks and wharf were partially repaired this spring by the carpenter and crew of the tender. The wharf will soon require extensive repairs, as the piling and timbers are much decayed.
(Photo From Terry Pepper Collection) Detroit Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot Dock Area ca. 1936.
1889 The depot and grounds are in good order. The sidewalks were repaired this spring. The materials, tools, appliances, etc., pertaining to the engineer service, stored at the depot, were overhauled and scheduled. It is very desirable that the facilities of the depot be extended to include storage of spare illuminating and other apparatus and appliances, in order that less delay shall attend the making of repairs and renewals. At the present time, for example, if the clockwork of a revolving light should break down or show signs of failure, there are no means of replacing it. If a lens were destroyed, or be seriously injured, it might be needful to send to the general depot at Staten Island before a new one could be set up. The remoteness and inaccessibility of many of the stations in the eleventh district are such as to suggest that every precaution be taken to shorten the time within which necessary work can be done.
1890 Workmen were employed during February and March cleaning, repairing, and refitting for service parts of lighthouse appliances and illuminating apparatus. The depot building used as a storehouse for supplies and mineral oil, the carpenter shop, buoy shed, walks and grounds are in good condition. The wharf is in need of partial rebuilding. The accumulations from sewers have filled up the slips to such extent that they should be dredged out to a depth of at least 16 feet, and the debris could be used to fill in under the wharf. An iron pipe should be laid to the end of the wharf for water supply of the tenders. The sheet piling on the west side is in need of extensive repairs. The portion of the depot grounds and buildings adjacent to Barry’s Varnish Works, and the frequency with which these works take fire, suggest that some special provision be made for fire protection. It would be comparatively an inexpensive matter to provide a safety boiler, either coil or pipe, on which steam could be rapidly raised, to run a small pump, and the apparatus could be handled by the custodian, who lives on the grounds. The purpose of the pump would be to throw a stream over the buildings and out-door property exposed to the fire, and keep them wetted down. The steam power would also be of great value and convenience in connection with the lampist’s shop, and enable him to do a class of work which in the absence of proper facilities has to be done elsewhere. The present arrangements for the services and accommodation of the lampist for the ninth and eleventh districts at the Detroit Supply and Buoy Depot are quite inadequate. This shop is at the end of the carpenter shop and is part of a one-story structure, built directly on the ground, and is in great danger from fire, as it is under a high brick wall, on the other side of which is a glue and varnish factory. The space is too small, it being but 15 by 24 feet in plan, and it is insufficiently lighted and ventilated. The floor is cold and damp, and the atmosphere is impregnated with vapors from the factory. It is now proposed to erect on the north side of the depot, and near the entrance gate on that side, a brick building to be used for the lampist’s shops, 16 by 30 feet in plan, of two stories, with the lower floor open and the second floor divided with a beam for a hoist projecting over the door of the second story. Such a building, it is estimated, will cost $2000. Recommendation is made that an appropriation of this amount be made therefore.
1891 An examination was made of the wharf at the Detroit Supply and Buoy Depot, and plans with estimates for repairs were prepared. Work was begun November 1, 1890, under a contract made in accordance with bids received therefore, and was finished December 10, 1890.
1892 Both slips adjoining the lighthouse depot wharf were dredged by contract. Some 3,160 cubic yards were taken from the east slip, deepening it 3.2 feet, and about 4,790 cubic yards from the west slip, deepening it 4.66 feet. There is now in each slip 14 feet of water at mean stage. Bids were asked by advertisement for furnishing the material required for a lampist shop, and contract was made therefore with the lowest bidders. The work by day labor was begun in April. The building was completed and the lampist moved from the old building into the new one in June. The building is a two-story brick structure 20 by 30 feet, with galvanized iron cornice and roof of asphaltic slag. The first story contains one room for general work; the second, approached by circular iron stairs, contains the lampist shop, which measures 18 by 20 feet, and a dark room for photometric work, 8 by 18 feet in size.
1893 The Saint Joseph Supply and Buoy Depot of the Ninth District began operation in January 1893 and the Detroit Supply and Buoy Depot was no longer used to supply Lake Michigan lighthouses.
Saint Joseph Supply and Buoy Depot
The Saint Joseph Supply and Buoy Depot served as the first depot for the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment’s Ninth District (all of Lake Michigan including Green Bay) from 1893 to 1916. This depot was built using modified plans of the Detroit Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot; it had the same style, but was significantly smaller. The depot was used for receiving, storing, packing, and delivering the supplies and stores for the various Ninth District lighthouse stations. It also housed a carpenter’s shop, a small machine shop and the district lamp shop where lamps were repaired. Most of the functions of the lamp shop were moved to the Milwaukee Temporary Depot in 1900 along with all of the functions of the carpenter’s shop and machine shop.
The St. Joseph Supply and Buoy Depot employed until 1900:
-Custodian (often called the Keeper)
-Carpenter from the tender
-Laborers as needed
After 1900 the Lampist was eliminated and an Assistant-laborer was provided for the Custodian.
What follows is a chronology of the Saint Joseph Supply and Buoy Depot taken directly from the Annual Reports of the Lighthouse Board.
1889 The Inspector and Engineer of the Ninth District visited Calumet, IL, Michigan City, IN, and Saint Joseph, MI, on January 7 and 8 of 1889, for the selection of a proper site for a depot for the district, and a joint report was made to the Lighthouse Board. From this report it appears that the harbor at Saint Joseph, MI offers on the whole the most advantageous combination of conditions. It has excellent water facilities, is near the head of the lake, is convenient of access both to the Inspector and Engineer, has frequent rail and water communication with Chicago, and has also a sheltered basin. The Cincinnati, Wabash and Michigan Railroad Company made a voluntary offer of the necessary area, on the north shore of the harbor, immediately adjoining the life-saving station. It is a matter of great importance to the district that a depot for its own use be established. It now uses the depot at Detroit, MI, in conjunction with the Eleventh District, as it did prior to the separation of Lake Michigan from the latter. But, the depot could not be divided at the same time, and, in consequence, not only is the Ninth District tender obliged to tie up in Detroit and await the full opening of navigation in the most northern waters, where the ice remains for some weeks later than at the head of the lake, but all the lampist and repair work and the distribution of supplies have to be made from the same inconvenient distance and with corresponding loss of time. The construction of a depot at Saint Joseph would greatly increase the facilities for establishing and maintaining the aids to navigation in the Ninth District, and the opportunity is an exceptionally favorable one to take advantage of the voluntary offer of an excellent and in all respects suitable site.
1890 Request again made for a depot at Saint Joseph.
1891 The act approved on March 3, 1891, by Congress, appropriated $35,000 for establishing a supply and buoy depot for the Ninth Lighthouse District at St. Joseph Harbor, Michigan. The site was donated to the government by the Cincinnati, Wabash and Michigan Railway Company. The depot will be built this season. Plans for the storehouse, prepared by Major William Ludlow of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are dated April 20, 1891.
1892 The deed for the site of this depot was received and recorded. A bulkhead and wharf were built. The site of the bulkhead for its entire length was dredged to a depth of 6 feet. Some 9,127 cubic yards were taken out; 4,706 yards were overcast for filling, and the remainder was dumped in the lake, as it would require a second handling to be used for filling. The work as finished consists of a bulkhead about 300 feet long and 20 feet wide, built of sheet piling of one thickness each of 2-inch and 3-inch plank, three rows of piles, the first being spaced 3 feet to centers, the second 6 feet and the third 12 feet. These carry double 12 by 12-inch superstructures on the outer and inner rows, and 12 by 12-inch cap on center row surmounted by 12 by 12-inch cross ties and 3-inch deck planking. Some 25 1-inch iron tie rods were placed at the water level to bind the front and rear walls, 23 guards or fender piles were driven in front of the bulkhead, and 7 moorings were placed. At the easterly end of the bulkhead, the wharf, of similar construction, is 20 feet wide and 60 feet long. The Norway pine piles in the bulkhead and wharf were all peeled from the water to the top of the work. All the piles in the bulkhead and wharf were bored to a depth of about 18 inches, filled with kerosene oil and the holes stopped with pine plugs. It is expected that the buildings at this depot will be ready for occupancy this fall.
1893 The Supply and Buoy Depot at St. Joseph, Michigan, has been occupied since January 1893, but is not yet fully completed. The supplies were delivered there, from the general depot at Tompkinsville, New York, and taken on board the tender Dahlia, for delivery to the light stations, fog-signals, and light vessels. The construction of the storehouse, keeper’s dwelling, and carpenter and lampist shops, was continued under contract and the work was completed on January 7, 1893. A hoisting elevator of 3,000 pounds capacity was placed in the storehouse. The grading, soiling, and fencing of the depot grounds were practically completed. Materials and cars for the tramway were delivered and will soon be placed. Steps were taken to have the station connected with the city water mains. The depot was in readiness for the reception of supplies in the early spring of 1894.
The Saint Joseph Supply and Buoy Storage Depot. Note: Rail tram wagon in front.
1894 The work of grading the depot grounds and the fencing was completed. The necessary work for piping the grounds and providing hydrants and a water meter was done, and all necessary connections were made to the dwelling. Some 575 running feet of 4-inch pipe was laid across St. Joseph harbor in a dredged channel 20 feet below the water surface to connect the water pipes of the lighthouse depot grounds with the city water mains. The tramway and track along the bulkhead and wharf, and from thence to the storehouse, with switches and curves, a total length of 540 feet, was completed. The rail laid on the wharf and bulkhead is spiked to the deck planking and the remainder to cedar ties laid 30 inches to centers. The rails throughout the entire distance are coupled together with fish plates bolted with 4-inch machine bolts. A plank walk 2 feet 6 inches wide, secured to ties, was laid between the tracks.
1895 Arrangements were made for the construction of a boathouse under the inner end of the wharf. Plans, specifications, and an estimate of cost were made for the construction of a buoy shed and a 10-ton derrick for the extension of the tramway and for making other minor improvements. The site was fertilized and seeded. Some 420 cubic yards of drift sand were removed from the depot grounds. A contract was made for a scow in which to transport freight across the river. Supplies and stores for the whole district were received here in bulk from the general lighthouse depot, and were distributed from here to the different lighthouses of the district.
1896 The supplies and stores from the general depot were received and issued from this depot. Stores obtained by open purchase were also sent here to be packed for distribution. During the year a derrick was erected on the waterfront, a buoy shed, and platforms for buoys, anchors and chains were completed, and a windmill and tank to supply the station with water were put in, and the station is now practically completed. The work was completed in November 1895.
1897 The depot was furnished with a gasoline launch. The custodian has planted nearly 100 shade trees and shrubs and has started as much of a lawn as the limited water supply will admit. This work is a necessity, on account of the sandy soil. The buildings are in fair condition. The hot water tank was connected with the furnace and storm shutters were provided for the front porch of the dwelling. Ten cubic yards of stone were placed at the east end of the bulkhead to prevent eroding of the shore by action of the waves. The windmill was repaired.
1898 About 6,680 cubic yards of material were dredged from the waterfront. The custodian has improved the grounds with trees and seeding. Some 14 feet of decking was added to the west end of the wharf, which connects with the buoy platform, making a continuous platform. Floating decks for the vapor launch were built under the west half of the dock and at the corner of the dock and wharf. The outhouse that was north of the dwelling was moved to the west end of the buoy shed. The break in the water pipe was repaired and water from the St. Joseph waterworks is again supplied.
The District Lamp Shop, within the depot, provided the following services during the year:
-Repairs to illuminating apparatus at 18 light stations
-Delivery of new 4th order lamps and instruction in their use to 23 light stations
-The machinist visited 15 light stations
-Repairs were made to 8 light stations where parts were returned to the depot
1899 The custodian’s dwelling was repaired. A lightning rod and point were purchased for erection on the flagstaff for protection of the depot buildings. A contract was made for dredging in front of the lighthouse depot and 3,600 cubic yards of material were removed. A contract was made for some 80 feet of revetment on the east side of the depot grounds for protection against the encroachment of the waterfront. Four piles were furnished and driven and a platform was constructed for a mooring place for the scow to protect the landing from the action of the sea. Iron pipe was put in and fire attachments were made with the city water with hose in the storehouse and hydrants at the wharf, so that every portion of the site can be reached, and connection was made so that it can be used by the tender when she is at the dock. The boat landings were repaired and a new one was made. A flagpole from the wreck of the steamer Duluth, 110 feet high, was erected, with an aluminum ball and lightning rod.
1900 A revetment for the protection of the depot grounds from erosion by water was built by contract, consisting of 80 running feet of pile revetment. A walk leading from the boat landing to the dock under the railroad bridge was built for the lighthouse boats. The sand that had drifted over the fence at the lighthouse depot was removed. Twelve feet of galvanized conductor pipe were purchased and minor repairs were made.
Note: The Milwaukee Temporary Depot began operation in 1900. See detailed story below.
1901 Repairs were made to the eve troughs of the custodian’s dwelling, steps of landing and sidewalks, and the pier was decked. The drainpipe leading from the custodian’s dwelling to the river was repaired. The water pipe from the city water main to the depot, leading under the river, which was broken under water, was repaired. All supplies received from the general lighthouse depot and those purchased for the district, and all blanks and stationery, were packed and issued to the tender Dahlia, for distribution to the light stations. This depot is well kept. The channel abreast the wharf is gradually filling up and it is with difficulty that the tender can enter and leave the depot.
Note: The Charlevoix Buoy Repair and Storage Depot began operation in 1901. See detailed story below.
1902 The waterfront of the depot was dredged to a depth of 15 feet. Some 10,950 cubic yards were removed.
1904 The buildings are in good repair and answer their purposes. The wharf, railway tracks, and fences are not in serviceable condition. A part of the ground is being undermined and washed away.
1905 The water pipes leading from the city water main under the river to the lighthouse depot were repaired.
Note: The Milwaukee Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot began operation in October 1905, but would not take over for several years. See detail story below.
1906 This is the supply depot for the district and is used for receiving, overhauling, and storing buoys and their appendages and for receiving, storing, packing, and delivering to the supply tenders the supplies and stores for the various stations. All concrete sinkers used in the district are made here. The storehouses and dwellings here are in excellent condition. All walks, wharves, buoy platform, tramway, and fences are in bad condition. The encroachment of the river on the eastern side of the station is becoming serious. Temporary repairs will be made, but the permanent repairs would be economical. A gasoline plant is being installed and the water system is nearly completed. This system is to give ample fire protection.
1907 The bulk of all stores, oil, buoys, etc., used in the lighthouse district are handled here, are packed ready for delivery, and loaded on tenders. Sinkers are made, and general work on buoy-chains, etc., is done here. The gasoline pumping plant now installed, gives protection from fire.
1908 The act approved on May 27, 1908, appropriated $24,000 for making repairs to the wharf and fences. The channel to the wharf is becoming filled in. The estimated cost of dredging to the depth of 16 feet is $2,000.
A request was made for a scow, or lighter, that is indispensable at this station, owing to the fact that all railroad and steamboat docks at St. Joseph are situated on the opposite side of the harbor from the supply depot, necessitating the transportation of all supplies and material to and from the docks by water. The demand for the services of such a vessel at this depot is practically continuous. In addition to its use for transportation purposes, it is always required in the construction and handling of cement sinkers. An exact duplicate of the scow asked for, constructed of wood, was used constantly from 1895 to 1907, when it was condemned as being no longer serviceable. It is estimated that such a vessel can be built for $7,000, and the Board recommends that an appropriation of that amount be made therefore.
1909 The channel to the dock is in need of dredging to a depth of 16 feet. The same request was made for a scow for the depot.
1910 The repairs to the dock and fences around this depot are in process. The contractor for the construction of the new sheet-pile revetment in front of the depot grounds continued the work that commenced in May 1909. Work under the contract is practically completed. The use of the United States seagoing dredge Meade was obtained from the War Department and necessary dredging was done in front of the lighthouse depot grounds at a cost of $2,516. This provided a channel and turning basin for approaching and leaving the dock in front of the depot grounds. This entire work will probably be completed during the fall of 1910. The work of converting the partially completed double dwelling, originally intended for the lighthouse keepers, into a warehouse for the storage of buoys, etc., was completed at a cost of $1,755. The total expenditures to date amount to $9,871. The request for the new scow has been approved by Congress.
Note: The Ninth District was renamed the Twelfth District at the end of 1910 and all operations continued.
In 1912 the new Twelfth District reported the following personnel:
6 Clerks, janitors, and laborers
4 Depot Keepers
90 Officers and crews of Tenders and Lightships
17 Full-time field construction or repair forces including
27 Part-time field construction and repair forces
1916 All operations were moved to the Milwaukee Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot and the building was vacated.
1917 This depot was occupied by the Naval Department under a revocable permit dated June 25, 1917, as its use was no longer required for lighthouse purposes.
1918 The St. Joseph Lighthouse Depot was transferred to the Navy Department by an act of Congress dated July 1, 1918.
Note: The following description of recent history was obtained from the Internet at: www.sjryc.com (Used with permission)
The former St. Joseph Lighthouse Depot continued to house some naval/militia reserve functions until about 1950, when the State discontinued funding. By 1952 it was housing the Army Reserves. From 1956 to 1993, it housed four units (2 Company D’s and 2 Company A’s) of the Michigan Army National Guard. The property was vacated in October of 1993 when the National Guard moved. In recognition of the historic significance of the structure, the Ninth District Lighthouse Depot was added to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
The property fell idle and continued to deteriorate until February 29, 1996 when a group of developers bought the property, invested in extensive renovations and expansion. They operated it as a restaurant and party facility until September 17, 2000. It was then sold to restaurateurs from Grand Rapids on March 9, 2001, and operated for that summer only, becoming vacant once again.
During 2001 and 2002, the St. Joseph Yacht Club’s Long Range Planning Committee evaluated the options for the Club’s future. The best option was clearly some way of affording the Depot property. After a year of dreaming, planning, deliberations, negotiations, and voting by Members, the agreement was signed on January 2, 2003. Two Members, Ron Schults and Bill Marohn, as developers, facilitated a trade of the old Yacht Club facilities for the renovated Lighthouse Depot building and a brand new swimming pool.
Milwaukee Temporary Depot 1900-1905
What follows is a chronology of the Temporary Milwaukee Depot taken directly from the Annual Reports of the Lighthouse Board.
1900 A temporary storehouse, 16 feet by 100 feet in plan, with 10-foot posts, was built at the westerly end of the north pier at Milwaukee. The floor is of 2-inch matched Norway, on 4-inch by 6-inch and 4-inch by 4-inch sleepers, which in turn rest upon 8-inch by 8-inch timbers, which are placed on a stone pier. The dock in front is 5 feet 8 inches wide the entire length, with steps at each end. There are four sliding doors – three facing the dock south and one at the north corner for receiving local deliveries. A small office occupies the southwest corner. The east end of the structure is partitioned off for use as a lamp shop, having seven windows and one outside sliding door; also a double door connecting it with the warehouse. Seven wire guards for the windows, a heating stove, a lock with night latch, a sink, and a padlock were provided. A telephone was placed in the temporary storehouse.
The easterly end of the temporary storehouse received interior sheathing over the building paper and was fitted up as a temporary machine shop. Machinery and tools for fitting up the district machine shop were purchased. The engine was placed on a brick and cement foundation and bolted, the gasoline tank was placed on stringers outside of the building, and the milling machine and lathe were placed in position. The machinery, belting, pulleys, hangers, and shafting were placed and adjusted; and the machinery was tested and found to be satisfactory. Six malleable clamps, two 6-inch stovepipe elbows, one length of 6-inch stovepipe, an iron casting, and patterns were purchased. A foot lathe, with drills, lathe tools, etc., was purchased for general use in the fielding construction and repair work in the district.
(Photo from Old Post Card) The Milwaukee Temporary Depot ca 1905 - it is the Cluster of Buildings out in the Lake.
1901 The temporary storehouse has been divided into three portions. The east end is arranged for a machine shop with a small compartment for the storage of illuminating apparatus; the center contains a room for the storage of tools and implements, with a loft over the same for the storage of such articles as rope, wheelbarrows, etc., and another portion is used for the reception of articles for general repair.
1902 The engineer’s storehouse, a temporary building, is insufficient for the repair work of the district, and when the construction of new stations is to be undertaken or materials for extensive alterations are to be delivered, there is no place to provide for their accommodation even for the shortest time. There is, moreover, a certainty that the building must be moved at an early date when work under contemplation on the repair of the north pier is undertaken by the engineer department.
The District Machine Shop, which occupies nearly one-half of the storehouse, is of great importance. The superintendent charged with the care of the illuminating apparatus has been continuously employed here when not in the field.
1903 The work of construction and repair is constantly increasing in this district. The storage facilities in the temporary storehouse and the capacity of the room occupied by the district machine shop are inadequate. The temporary warehouse is situated on the inner end of the north harbor pier; it is occupied by sufferance, and it will be soon needed by the War Department to carry out the work which was authorized by the river and harbor act in the reconstruction of the harbor piers. The temporary storehouse must therefore be removed, and there is at present no site on the waterfront, which the Lighthouse Service can obtain except by purchase. The present site is bad for a steamer to lie alongside of, as it is near the channel approaching the harbor, and a vessel lying there is subject to injury from passing steamers. The lighthouse hired tender Alice M. Gill, has occupied a berth here at short intervals during the working seasons only, but the lighthouse tender Hyacinth, now being built, and which is to be delivered in a few months, must be provided with a wintering berth near Milwaukee, as it will be impracticable to send her so far away as the lighthouse depot at St. Joseph.
1904 The lease for dockage for the lighthouse tender and for storage facilities for the temporary depot was renewed to cover the fiscal year. The grounds were fenced in by the building of some 300 feet of picket fence 6 feet high, with a drive gate and passenger gate. The roadway entering the grounds was improved. The temporary building was used for the reception of material and its storage previous to loading on the Hyacinth for transportation to the various stations. The storehouse was leveled up and re-blocked.
The District Machine Shop, which occupies one-half of the storehouse, has been of much service in the work of repairs to illuminating apparatus.
1905 The lease for dockage for the lighthouse tender and for temporary storage facilities was renewed to cover four months. The district machine shop was occupied by the machinist and his helper during the closed season and for a great part of the season of navigation in repairing illuminating and fog-signal apparatus.
1906 The use of dockage for the lighthouse tender and for temporary storage facilities was continued from July 1 until January 1, 1906, at which time the grounds were given up.
Milwaukee Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot
What follows is a chronology of the Milwaukee Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot taken directly from the Annual Reports of the Lighthouse Board.
1903 The Board thinks that measures should be taken to obtain this urgently needed depot. Inquiries have been made for a site, and none has been found which can be purchased for anything approaching the nominal amount which was anticipated when the recommendation was first made. It is now believed that a proper site would cost $25,000 on account of the value of waterfront property. The Board therefore estimates that it would cost not less than $75,000 to establish a lighthouse depot at or near Milwaukee, and it is now recommended that an appropriation of this amount be made therefore.
1904 An appropriation of $75,000 was made by the act approved by Congress on April 28, 1904, for the establishment at or near Milwaukee of a depot for the Ninth Lighthouse District, including the purchase of a site therefore.
1905 A site was purchased on the Kinnickinnic River, at Milwaukee, with 320 feet of waterfront. The cession of jurisdiction by the State to the United States is in course of preparation. Plans and specifications for the building of a revetment and wharf and for the dredging and filling grounds were prepared, and bids, which had been asked by advertisement, were, on June 23, 1905, opened. A bid was accepted, and contracts are now being prepared. The work is to be finished about October 1, 1905, when the temporary depot site can be relinquished and the temporary building and shop can be moved to the United States grounds.
1906 Cession of jurisdiction from the State of Wisconsin to the United States was obtained. The revetment and wharf, under contract, were completed on October 1, 1905, and the temporary buildings and shops were removed from the leased grounds to the United States property. Detailed plans and estimates of cost for a warehouse and of a railroad siding and of introduction of city water were prepared. Bids for construction are to be invited. The right of way was graded and a plank walk was laid from Greenfield Avenue to the northerly entrance of the grounds.
1907 A contract was made for building a storehouse. The structural steel work of the three-story structure was erected as far as the 20 columns of the first story and the first and second tiers of floor beams; and of the one-story structure all 14 columns were erected. City water was introduced, and a concrete vault for the water meter was built.
1908 The lighthouse depot and storehouse containing a machine shop, recently completed, are in good condition. The depot is well adapted and equipped for carrying on the work of the district in an efficient and economical manner. The following repairs and improvements will be required during the fiscal year 1909: Boat-ways for hauling out launches, fitting up old shed for boathouse, paving and grading, fencing, erecting a derrick, adding flooring over the ceiling of the custodian’s quarters for storage of patterns and the construction of shelving. The estimated cost of the labor and materials required to do the proposed work is $1,800.
Description of the Milwaukee Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot from fire insurance records 1911:
1) Single story Stockroom and Warehouse – fireproof construction, brick and concrete with fire hydrant, attached to the three-story building.
2) Three story building
Stock room on first floor, interior walls tiled on first floor only
Machine shop on second floor – with gasoline powered engine
Living rooms on third floor
3) Single story Tool room with cement floor and walls
4) Single story Receiving dock next to rail spur
Two additional buildings were added later.
On September 17, 1913 the headquarters of the 12th District were moved from Chicago, IL to Milwaukee, WI so that it could be more centrally located within the district. Complaints were made because the Milwaukee Depot was nearly surrounded by coal yards and the dust was objectionable, but no action was taken other than to request a new depot site.
(Photo from USCG Collection) The Milwaukee Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot 1913.
1934 A major addition is made to the depot of a large warehouse building behind, but attached to the old facility. It was not completed until late 1935.
(Photo from USCG Collection) The New Warehouse. Note: The Small Building is the Powerhouse for the Machine Shop.
(Photo Courtesy James Woodward Collection) A Fresnel Lens Under Repair in the Lamp Shop ca 1938.
1939 The Lighthouse Depot became the Milwaukee Coast Guard Base when the Lighthouse Service was transferred to the US Coast Guard.
1967 In 1967, US Coast Guard Base Milwaukee moved to the present day building for Sector Lake Michigan and the former base was abandoned with the land returned to the city. All but one of the buildings was torn down.
(Photo from Author’s Collection) The Milwaukee Supply, Repair and Buoy Depot from the Air ca 1940.
Charlevoix Buoy Repair and Storage Depot
What follows is a chronology of the Charlevoix Buoy Repair and Storage Depot taken directly from the Annual Reports of the Lighthouse Board.
1899 Pursuant to the appropriation of $15,000 made by the act approved on July 1, 1898, for a depot at Charlevoix, Michigan, a site for the Buoy and Supply Depot at Charlevoix was purchased. The title papers were approved by the United States Attorney General and duly recorded. The site was plotted. General plans and an estimate of the cost for the construction of the depot were prepared. Detail plans, specifications, and forms for advertising for the construction of the revetment and for dredging a basin, and for filling at the depot, were prepared and bids for doing the work were invited. The work is to be done so that the depot can be of service this fall.
1900 Contracts were made for dredging the waterfront and slip, for back filling and grading the grounds, and for building a pile revetment. The work called for in these contracts was finished during April 1900. 4,500 cubic yards of material having been dredged and dumped into Pine Lake, 4,775 cubic yards used for back filling and grading, and 445 running feet of pile revetment constructed. Plan, general description, and estimate for a warehouse 40 feet wide by 90 feet long were prepared, and proposals for furnishing the material were invited by posters and circular letters. The materials for the construction of the warehouse were delivered by a lighthouse tender.
1901 This depot is practically finished. The warehouse was completed in September of 1900. It consists of a one-story brick building 40 feet wide by 90 feet long with seven steel trusses. The depot grounds were enclosed with a fence. One handcar and four buoy carriages, with steel frames and rollers to roll directly upon the handcar, were provided, the buoy carriages being so constructed as to receive the large compressed gas buoys as in a cradle. A tramway 560 feet long was laid. The small dwelling already on the site when this ground was purchased was repaired for the custodian.
The Charlevoix Buoy Repair and Storage Depot and the Custodian’s Dwelling.
1902 A buoy carriage was made at the Milwaukee storehouse and delivered to this depot. This completed the work on this depot, using the full amount of the funds appropriated for its construction.
1905 This depot is in good condition.
1906 This depot is utilized for the storage and overhauling of buoys for the northern part of the district. With the exception of the dwelling it is in good condition.
1907 This depot is used for the storage and overhauling of buoys for the northern end of the lake.
1908 The storehouse and wharf are in excellent condition. The dwelling, an old dilapidated building, caught of fire on May 5, 1908, owing to a defective flue.
The Charlevoix Buoy Repair and Storage buildings are still there, although no longer used for lighthouse purposes.
USLHS DEPOTS – 1915
The high water mark for Lighthouse Service operations was 1915. The service probably had the most manned lighthouses in operation at one time in this year. Also the most lightship stations were recorded in 1915 at 53, with 66 vessels to man the stations (13 were relief vessels).
Following is a list of depots throughout the service in 1915. Some of the depots were merely a wharf in some remote area where the service could store buoys, chain and sinkers to be retrieved by the buoy tender as needed. Smaller depots were manned and contained a variety of basic supplies, but usually didn’t have personnel like lampists and blacksmiths. The larger depots stored coal for the ships and light stations, fuel oil, buoys and other supplies. Large wooden spar buoys were shaped at large depots and blacksmiths made up lengths of chain, repaired buoys and created various items of iron for light stations. A lampist was on hand to repair clockworks and constant level oil lamps. Lampists could also be sent into the field to repair machinery at light stations. The largest depots also had a Field Construction Force which was dispatched to light stations to make major repairs, construct breakwaters, docks and boat houses. The principal depot for each district is indicated by larger type.
Bear Island, ME
LITTLE DIAMOND ISLAND, ME
LOVELLS ISLAND, Boston Harbor, MA
Woods Hole MA Depot
Chelsea MA Depot 1936
Goat Island, Newport, RI
Bristol RI Depot
Juniper Island, VT (Lake Champlain)
New London, CT
Thompkinsville NY Depot, Staten Island, NY [the General Depot for the service]
Tucker Beach, NJ
Lazaretto Point, Baltimore Harbor, MD
Point Lookout, MD
Portsmouth VA Depot
Washington Wharf, DC
Castle Pinckney SC Depot 1892
Egmont Key, FL
KEY WEST, FL
PORT EADS, LA
Fort San Jacinto, Galveston, TX
New Orleans LA Depot 1934
Culebrita Island, PR
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
SAN JUAN, PR
Tenth District (Lakes Ontario & Erie And the St. Lawrence River)
Buffalo NY Depot ca 1950
Maumee Bay, OH
Rock Island, NY
Sandusky Bay (Cedar Point) OH Depot
Eleventh District (Lakes St. Clair, Huron and Superior)
Minnesota Point (Duluth) MN Depot
St. Marys River, MI
Twelfth District (Lake Michigan)
St. Joseph, MI
Ediz Hook, WA
TONGUE POINT, OR
Yerba Buena San Francisco CA Depot
Long Beach CA Depot
The 13th thru 15th Districts represent the Western Rivers, which didn’t have Depots. The supplies for the small-unmanned shore aids and unlighted buoys were carried aboard the tenders, which serviced the Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.