When we travel and scan archival lighthouse photos at
various locations, including
Travels with The Lighthouse People
(or Adventures in Cat Sitting)
By Colleen MacNeney
The Lighthouse People, Bob and Sandra Shanklin, are my parents. Since they’ve started their quest to digitize and secure any and all archival lighthouse photos in the United States, I have volunteered to join them when I can.
On one journey last year to the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s office in Washington D.C., unbeknownst to me, we stumbled upon an interesting notation on a photograph I was scanning.
The photograph was in the Point Montara, California, Lighthouse file. It was a black and white photo, showing an old tower in need of repair with this handwritten notation underneath it: “This tower formerly used at Mayo Beach, 2d District.”, and dated “1928” from the back.
I thought it was an interesting old photograph. However after we got home, Bob and Sandra thought this notation odd as they had never heard of this bit of information before.
So on my next adventure to Washington D.C., my new quest was to find out if indeed the Point Montara, CA. Lighthouse came from Mayo’s Beach, MA. I was there to be a companion for Kadisa, the cat who lives with Lighthouse Authors/Researchers Candace and Mary Louise Clifford, but of course she didn’t mind if I did some research during the day.
Before going back to the Coast Guard to see the photo again, being iced in for several days, I looked at all the information I could find on various Lighthouse sites. Everything I found about the Point Montara Lighthouse said it was a new tower that was built in 1928. A 30’ high, conical, cast iron tower.
What I found about Mayo’s Beach Lighthouse was that it was a 30’ high conical cast iron tower that was discontinued in 1922, sold at auction in 1923, and the tower was torn down or removed in 1939.
This information did not indicate that the notation on the suspect photo was correct – the dates did not match. So off I went back to the Coast Guard Historian’s Office to revisit said photograph.
Upon pulling the Point Montara file again, I found the photograph had these additional quotations: “See 18th’s letter of 4-27-28 (493-E)”, “Filed 5-17-28”, and on the back “Cast iron tower for Pt. Montara”, and stamped “Lighthouse Superintendent Dec 17 1927 Sanfrancisco”.
Hmmm, very interesting!
Next I searched through the Bulletins of the Lighthouse Bureau and the Annual Reports from 1921 to 1930, looking for any information or cost reports regarding the transfer of the tower from Mayo’s Point to Point Montara, or the cost of building the new Point Montara Lighthouse. Nothing! No cost reports, no annual reports, no notations in the bulletins!
So after consulting with Kadisa (the researcher cat), I was off to The National Archives to see if I could find the letter that the photograph notations referred to and anything else that would prove or disprove the transfer.
By now it was my last day in town, and the Clifford’s were back from their own adventure. Thank goodness I ran into Candace at the Archives! It’s very confusing trying to figure out what documents you want, when the pull times are, rules, etc., so she helped me immensely by pointing me in the right directions. I was able to get three pull times and six groups of document files.
(A little note aside: As I was looking through books, web sites, photographs, and documents, I found three different ways to write Mayos Beach. I had to know, is it “Mayo Beach”, “Mayos Beach”, or “Mayo’s Beach”? According to the document at the National Archives, “STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS, File No. 45, TITLE PAPERS, OF Mayo’s Beach…” It is Mayo’s Beach.)
Now back to my main paper chase:
Site files (1790-1939), nothing.
Lighthouse Station Logs (1872-1947), nothing.
Clippings from annual reports (1800-1939), nothing.
Bulletins of the Lighthouse Bureau (1912-1939), nothing.
Lighthouse Station Logs (1872-1947), nothing.
Where is the information I need? Then finally, STEE-RIKE!
In Correspondence files (1911-1939), yes!!!
The elusive letter “493-E” noted on the original photograph with an attached note.
493-E: “Plans and specs. for standard towers”, “May 5, 1928”, “…relating to a tower transferred to the 18th District by the 2d Superintendent.”, “It appears that the tower is the one which was formerly in service at Mayo Beach Beach Lightstation, Mass.” (signed) “J.S. CONWAY Acting Commissioner of Lighthouses”
Attached handwritten note: “May 4/28”, “The tower referred to in 18th’s April 27, is the old Mayo Beach tower which 2nd transferred to here in 1925.” (cannot read signed initials)
And then one more bit of proof!
“May 25th, 1928”, “RECOMMENDATION AS TO AIDS TO NAVIGATION”, “The following recommendation is submitted for the consideration of the Bureau:
1. Name of aid: Point Montara Light Station
2. Locality: Seacoast, Pacific Coast, California; adjacent to entrance to San Francisco Harbor.
3. Proposed action: Erect cast iron tower and lantern (cast iron tower and lantern received from Second Lighthouse District in June 1925, transferred as Surplus Property).
4. Necessity: The present light structural steel tower erected in 1912 has seriously disintegrated by action of salt spray so that is impracticable to keep in proper state of repair.”
SCORE!!! Proof positive that the tower from Mayo’s Beach, MA was indeed the “new” tower erected in 1928 at Point Montara, CA.
Kadisa was very happy for me, and I could now go home with exciting news! Now if I could just get out of Washington D.C. before the next ice storm…
My name is Colleen, and I’m a Lighthouse People, too.
The story first seen in Lighthouse Digest, June 2008