Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2013

Book Reviews

By Timothy Harrison


Fore River Shipyard

Although ships and lighthouses go hand-in-hand, with the exception of lightships, which were floating lighthouses, to the best of my recollection we have never done a review of any book about ships and certainly never one about a shipyard. After all, we are a lighthouse magazine.

However, the new book Fore River Shipyard by Wayne G. Miller is worthy of a short review in Lighthouse Digest because of its historical significance and because very people know of Thomas A. Watson, to whom the book is dedicated, and his link to lighthouse history.

For those of you who don’t know who Thomas A. Watson is, it was his name that was first spoken and first heard over the telephone. He was a partner of Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922). In 1881 Thomas A. Watson (Jan. 18, 1854–Dec. 13, 1934) took his royalties from the Bell Telephone Company and in 1884 he founded the Watson Steam Engine Company that eventually became the Fore River Engine Company and then the Fore River Shipbuilding Company, which owned and operated the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts.

In 1901 the company built the lightship LV72, which became the first steel-hulled light vessel ever built as well as the first steel-hulled vessel built at the shipyard. That vessel was designated Diamond Shoals Lightship and would be stationed in the waters off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. However, rather than its construction of the first steel hulled lightship, the Fore River Shipyard seems to be best remembered for the construction of the USS Long Beach (CGN-9), the first nuclear guided-missile cruiser, which took four years to complete.

The company grew immensely and by the height of World War II it employed 30,000 people. Fore River Shipyard was eventually taken over by Bethlehem Steel and later by General Dynamics, which continued to build ships at the site until the bad economy forced the shipyard to close in 1986.

Through the pages of Fore River Shipyard, the author has done a fabulous job of collecting and publishing a large selection of rare images of the many varied vessels that were built at the yard, which includes submarines, battleships, destroyers, and ocean liners. And, I can assure you, many of the images are an awesome and amazing look into the past when these magnificent seagoing ships of a vanished and forgotten era once traversed the mighty waterways of the world.

Fore River Shipyard is available from Lighthouse Digest for $21.99 plus shipping on-line at www.LighthouseDigest.com or by mail at P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630.

Port Isabel

The folks at Arcadia Publishing, through their series of Images of America books, continue to churn out good historical works that are helping to save historical photographs and memories for future generations, as is the case with one of their newest releases, Port Isabel by Valerie D. Bates.

In the 1830s, a small community known as El Fronton de Santa Isabel set its roots on the banks of the Laguna Bay in Texas. A little over two decades later Point Isabel was home to Zachary Taylor’s Fort Polk and found itself as the home base during the Mexican American War. By 1853 the area was important enough to build the Port Isabel Lighthouse, which is also called the Point Isabel Lighthouse.

In spite of the area’s rich ties to the sea, the lighthouse was nearly lost more than once: during the Civil War, then over an ownership dispute, changes in ownership, commissioning, decommissioning, and then commissioning and decommissioning again, and finally because of pure neglect from abandonment. The fact that the lighthouse stands today is close to a miracle as lighthouse miracles get.

One of the great photos in the book is a 1920s image showing a large gathering of Model T cars near the lighthouse. Another image that is quite dramatic, and my personal favorite, shows seven people at the top of the lighthouse clinging to each other and the rusted out cast-iron window frames to keep from falling to what would have been certain death. Every historic photo of every page makes you want to step back in time as if you were there. For your tech-savvy people, you won’t find photos like this on the Internet. Besides, you need to start buying books rather than thinking you can learn everything from the World Wide Web.

In order to understand the history behind the Port Isabel Lighthouse. one must also understand the history of the area, which locals had dubbed as “The End of the World,” which is nicely done through the pages of the book that honors an area that, by the 1950s, was the Shrimping Capitol of the World. Anyone with an interest in lighthouses, Port Isabel, or Gulf coast

history will want this book in their collection. Kudos to the author.

Port Isabel is available from Lighthouse Digest at www.LighthouseDigest.com for $21.99 plus shipping, or you can call 207-259-2121.

Lighthouses of Eastern Michigan

Rumrunners, bootleggers, mystery, smugglers, intrigue, bravery and fortitude all surround the many stories of current and lost lighthouses that are captured in historic images and informative text in the new book Lighthouses of Eastern, Michigan, by Wil and Pat O’Connell.

This new 127-page volume, which follows on the success of the couple’s previous book, Ohio Lighthouses, is loaded with historic photos. Your mind will drift back to another era in time. Personally, after looking at some of the photos I immediately thought of the Untouchables.

From the Straits of Mackinac, to the Soo Locks and down the coast through Lake Huron to the Detroit River, this book is like opening up a time capsule that should pique the interest of anyone reading the book to want to learn more.

In a time when it seems that fewer and fewer people care about saving our nation’s history and heritage for future generations we are fortunate enough to have book publishers such as Arcadia Publishing who continue to support, through their Images of America books, the efforts of historians to publish photo essay books on just about every topic, including lighthouses. And this book, Lighthouses of Eastern Michigan, thanks to its authors, will help save another slice of our rich maritime history.

Lighthouses of Eastern Michigan is available from Lighthouse Digest for $21.99 plus shipping on-line at www.LighthouseDigest.com or by mail at P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630. You can also call 207-259-2121 to order the book.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2013 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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