Digest>Archives> June 2009

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Buffalo Lighthouse Depot

By Jim Claflin


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USLHS Depot Buffalo

It has long been said that "One picture is worth a thousand words." I just picked up this wonderful image that I hope you enjoy as much as I. It is such beautiful vintage photo images that sparked my interest in this subject years ago. The image is from the National Archives collection and shows in wonderful detail the Lamp Shop at the U.S. Lighthouse Service Depot in Buffalo, New York . I would guess the date to be about 1890’s.

Lighthouse Service Commissioner George R. Putnam noted in his book Lighthouses And Lightships Of The United States. [Cambridge, MA. 1933 2nd. ed. 324 pp.], that "One or more lighthouse depots are conveniently located in each district for carrying on the work of the district in the matter of storing and distributing supplies and apparatus. In addition there is on Staten Island, New York Harbor, a general lighthouse depot, established in 1863, where many of the supplies for the whole Service are purchased and stored and sent out for distribution, and where much of the special apparatus of the Service is manufactured or repaired, and where also there is carried on various technical work in the way of testing apparatus and supplies and designing or improving apparatus. Each district is provided with one or more light-house tenders for the purpose of distributing supplies to the various stations and light vessels and for trans¬portation of materials for construction or repair, for the placing and care of the buoyage system in the district, and for transporting the inspector and other officers of the Service on official inspections of stations and vessels and on other official duty."

The depots contained offices for the Superintendent and Engineer of the Lighthouse Depot and their staff. In addition, other buildings might include masonry storage vaults used for storing the volatile lighthouse fuels, barracks, machine shops, laboratories used by engineers to experiments with different lamp designs and to test fuels, and the lamp shop for assembly and repair of lighthouse lenses- some of which were nearly 18 feet tall and weighed thousands of pounds. Such shops typically had high windows to provide much-needed light for the workshop areas. Some depots included space for blacksmith, tinsmith, and other workshops as well as storage rooms, and even a foundry where lightship anchors, chains, buoys, sinkers, and parts for lighthouse fabrication were made.

Note in this image can be seen the 6th order lens, chariot wheels and clockwork rotating mechanism that the two men are working on. In the corner on the bench can be seen a Haines oil lamp as well. Such images are a joy to look at and each has a story to tell.

Like our column? Have suggestions for future subjects? Please send in your suggestions and questions, or a photograph of an object that you need help dating or identifying. We will include the answer to a selected inquiry as a regular feature each month in our column.

Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this type since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA. 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@LighthouseAntiques.net or visit his web site at www.LighthouseAntiques.net

This story appeared in the June 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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