Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2012

Appropriating for Fog in 1860

By Bill Clark


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The U.S. Light House Establishment documents ...

It was a dark and stormy night and. . .” the image of a lighthouse on the storm battered, rock strewn point can be easily imagined. Except when there is fog, especially on West Quoddy Head in Lubec, Maine, “where they make the fog, at the End of the Earth.” Then it’s just plain gray and not a sailor’s delight.

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In 1976 the fog horns stood on a separate ...

On the easternmost point of the original 48 states, West Quoddy Head Lighthouse was established in 1808. To aid the light during spring and early summer fogs, a fog warning cannon was used from 1808 to 1820. Later, West Quoddy, with its fog, rocks, and severe Bay of Fundy tides, was one of the first stations to be equipped with a fog bell. Four hand rung bells were used between 1820 and 1838.

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The fog bell was moved from display by the flag ...

In the 1837 report from Uriah Coolidge of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Crawford, to Capt. James Smith of the U.S. Navy, buoys and navigation obstacles in the Lubec Narrows were noted. as well as the fog alarm problem on West Quoddy Head. “I fear the project for exchanging the fog bell at West Quoddy for a triangular cast-steel bell will not prove to be so beneficial as I had anticipated. A cast-steel bell of two and fifty pounds weight has been purchased by General Chandler, and is at West Quoddy; but its power is not equal to the composition bell. The later weighs fifteen hundred pounds, but, owing to an excess of copper, its pitch is quite too low; neither can be heard, when rung by anything but hand-power, at the point of danger.”

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On October 4, 1860 Ira Winn submitted an ...

Going into the middle of the 19th century, problems remained “it is believed nothing short of tide-power or steam-engine will answer . . . The fog alarm at West Quoddy is of immense importance to our shipping interest; and it is hoped some effectual method will be adopted speedily that will relieve the keeper of the light from the fatiguing labor of ringing the bell by hand.”

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The 1860 fog bell and tower at West Quoddy ...

In 1852, a Jones fog bell and its corresponding tower replaced this bell.  In fact, one of the earliest photos of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse shows the Jones fog bell tower in the photograph.  A Jones fog bell featured a bell atop a platform that rang automatically with the assistance of hanging weights.  The entire system worked in the same way a grandfather clock does, with descending weights that would trip hammers to ring the bell as they fell.  These weights would then be cranked back to the top once they had reached the ground.

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The Light-House Board appropriated $15,000 in 1856 “for rebuilding the light-house,” at West Quoddy Head, “and fitting it with proper illuminating apparatus.” The new brick tower and wood-framed dwelling were completed in 1858.

By 1860, infrastructure repairs were needed. Six original 1860 U.S. Light House Establishment appropriation documents provide an insight to lighthouse maintenance in Downeast Maine just prior to the Civil War.

During the 1850s, Ira Winn of Portland, Maine, was an innovator and lighthouse pioneer, working his trade of creating castings for lighthouse lanterns and fog bell clocks. He had a long relationship with the U.S. Light-house establishment, helping them to develop and create castings. It is probable that Winn’s services are for the lantern as the appropriation details “Appropriation for Repairs of Light House.”

In addition to Winn’s appropriation for West Quoddy Head Light repairs, there are 5 other appropriations in 1860 referenced for “Raising, cleaning Beacons & Buoys”:

Oct 2 - A. J. Foster, Shipbuilder, Portland, ME: “265 ft. oak & plank for bell frame Quoddy Head Fogbell” for “Fogbell at Quoddy Head Lighthouse.”

Oct 20 - George W. Godfrey, a member of the Godfrey family of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Keepers, Lubec: “175 lbs iron work, Truckage of same from Lubec to L.H., 2½ days labor on bell frame @ $2.00, 2 ½ days labor on bell frame @ $1.25, truckage of bell from landing to L.H., 2 shear poles” for “replacing fog bell.”

Oct 21- Edw. H. Burgin, Captain/ship owner [?], Eastport, ME: “transportation of cast steel bell from Portland to Quoddy Head” for “Fogbell at Quoddy Head L.H.”

Dec.5 - William Godfrey, Lighthouse Keeper, West Quoddy Head (1856-1860) and son of Peter Godfrey, second Lighthouse Keeper at West Quoddy Head (1813-1839), Lubec: “loan of men employed in putting up Bell at W. Quoddy Head, from December 1st to December 5th, 5 days” for “erecting Fog bell at West Quoddy Head.”

Dec.5 - Horace Harmon, Contractor [?] Lubec: “5 lbs. zinc, 5 lbs. paint, spring for clockwork, 8 lbs. bell rope, 54 [lbs] iron, 10 braces, Labor from___ to___ inc. 5 days” for “erecting Fog bell at West Quoddy Head.”

In 1869, a Daboll trumpet fog whistle powered by a hot-air engine was installed and a fog bell at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse was silenced forever. The new fog signal was described as similar to the blast from a steam locomotive.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2012 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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