By Timothy Harrison
On display at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine is a hand-made wooden violin case that once belonged to Reuben T. Leavitt, Sr. (1800-1890) who was the lighthouse keeper at Whaleback Lighthouse near Portsmouth Harbor on the border of Maine and New Hampshire.
Family records indicate that during the time that Reuben T. Leavitt, Sr. was the Register of Deeds in Concord, New Hampshire he was offered the job of lighthouse keeper of the Whaleback Lighthouse, which in itself was an extreme change of careers. But, in the early 1850s, he packed up his wife, Nancy, their children, and widowed mother Ruth, and made the move to the seacoast.
Although passed down family memories stated that the Reuben T. Leavitt, Sr. family lived there (at the lighthouse), it seems highly unlikely that keeper Leavitt’s family actually lived in the tower because of the hazardous conditions at the poorly constructed, exposed tower. Because it was also stated in local history that keeper Leavitt’s son Reuben Jr., then “man-grown” at age 14, was able to assist his father in his duties, it is more likely that the memories meant that the family resided in a home on the mainland near the lighthouse and that his son would often accompany his father to the lighthouse. It wasn’t too long after his arrival on the coast to take over the Whaleback Lighthouse that Reuben T. Leavitt, Sr.’s widowed mother Ruth passed away.
It is unclear exactly when Reuben T. Leavitt, Sr. carved the violin case, but because he painted a tall ship on the cover of the case, it is highly likely that he carved it during some of the mundane time that he spent while he was on duty at the Whaleback Lighthouse. It was not uncommon for lighthouse keepers to play a violin or fiddle in those days, as it would have been their only enjoyment of music, especially at a remote lighthouse sitting on a ledge that was surrounded by water.
But, after six years of being the keeper at Whaleback Lighthouse, he had enough of the dangerous duty. Yearning to move back to the fertile land of New Hampshire, in 1859 he resigned from the Lighthouse Establishment, and by 1860 he had purchased a farm on the east side of Catamount Mountain in Pittsfield, New Hampshire.
After nearly 70 years of marriage to his beloved wife Nancy, he passed away on May 18, 1890 and was interred in the Floral Park Cemetery in Pittsfield, New Hampshire.
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2016 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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