Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2019

California Keeper George Franklyn Watters

By Kathy Mastako


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George Franklyn Watters as a private in the U.S. ...

George Franklyn Watters was everything the Lighthouse Service could have asked for. He was a patriot, dedicated family man, and hard-working keeper, earning consistently good performance ratings. He was also a man who forged lasting friendships and got involved in community affairs. But his 36-year keeper career seems professionally unremarkable—no special commendations, no efficiency awards, no life-saving rescues. On the other hand, his record contains no reprimands or concerns. He was a “steady-Eddie” sort of fellow, the kind of man whose life history needs to be told and saved for future generations.

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The 1901 wedding portrait of George Franklyn ...

Life did not start out auspiciously for this youngest child of George and Lucretia Watters. Born in Oakland, California in 1879, according to the family Bible, into a household with five other children, he never got to know either of his parents. His father died the year he was born, at age 41; his mother died in 1882, at age 43. According to family memories, the orphan George was raised by older sisters.

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California’s Pigeon Point Lighthouse as it ...

When Watters was 19, he enlisted in the Army and fought in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. He was honorably discharged a year later in August 1899. Eighteen months later, in 1901, he married Della Ingrim. Their first child, Franklyn Lawton Watters, was born the following year.

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Point Montara Lighthouse in Montara, California ...

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George F. Watters in his lighthouse keeper’s ...

Pigeon Point

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San Luis Obispo Lighthouse, also known as Point ...

George Watters was working as a barrel-cooper in San Francisco when he took the Civil Service exam for assistant keepers, achieving a respectable 87.33% score. The following year, in 1906, he was appointed 3rd assistant keeper at Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Half-Moon Bay, California serving under John E. Lind. In 1907, Watters was promoted to 2nd assistant keeper.

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Lighthouse keeper George Watters (left) in front ...

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This photo of George Watters (l), Dorothy Watters ...

Point Montara

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Constance Van Harreveld, a columnist for a local ...

In 1908, George Watters was transferred to Point Montara, a two-man station about seven miles north of Pigeon Point and 25 miles south of San Francisco. First assistant Patrick Dempsey had temporarily taken over as keeper, and Watters was temporarily promoted to 1st assistant “pending the settlement of the case of Keeper Henry Hall, now under suspension.”

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The San Luis Obispo Baptist Church as it appeared ...

The case against Henry Hall was a serious one. In January of 1909, the San Francisco Call Bulletin reported, “the light keeper at Point Montara, who pleaded guilty to criminal assault in the superior court, today was sentenced to serve 10 years at San Quentin . . . The crime for which Hall was sentenced was committed upon his 15-year-old stepdaughter.”

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Historic image of the tower of Point Bonita Light ...

Following Halls’ conviction, Watters’ temporary assignment as 1st assistant was converted to a permanent appointment, as was Dempsey’s keeper assignment. Watters’ efficiency report for 1909 notes his duties involved assisting in the care and maintenance of the “lens lantern light and fog signal,” assisting with keeping the buildings and grounds in order, standing night watch and daytime watch during fog, and making minor repairs. His performance was rated “perfectly satisfactory.” His efficiency report for 1911, in addition to noting the same duties as in his 1909 report, indicates he was “handy repairing engines, boilers, using carpentry and plumbing tools.” His rating was a solid 89%.

The “lens lantern” the reports referred to had been erected in 1900 and stood on a post 300 feet southwest of the fog signal.

Watters stayed 1st assistant at Point Montara until 1920, continuing to serve under Dempsey. During his tenure there, in 1912, the lens lantern was upgraded to a fourth order Fresnel lens set atop an iron skeletal tower and the characteristic was changed from fixed red to a white light flashing every two-and-a-half seconds. The station’s steam whistles were torn out in 1919 and replaced by a diaphone fog signal.

Also, during his tenure there, in 1913, his daughter Dorothy Allison Watters was born, 11 years following the birth of his son.

Point San Luis

Seven years later, in 1920, Watters was transferred to the Point San Luis Light-Station and promoted to keeper, due to William Smith’s retirement. Point San Luis is located on California’s central coast, some 200 miles south of San Francisco.

We know more about Watters while he was at Point San Luis than about any other period in his life because of Constance “Connie” Van Harreveld who, as the Avila Beach correspondent for a local paper, reported on the happenings in this small beach town, including Port San Luis and the lighthouse. Her columns provide insights into the activities of the Watters family in the Avila Beach and San Luis Obispo communities.

George and Della joined the 500 Card Club of Avila and Port San Luis, hosted card games at the lighthouse, and entertained friends there on many occasions. Dorothy, who attended the one-room Port School serving the lighthouse children and children of stevedores who worked at the nearby port, hosted overnight sleepovers for classmates and friends. The Van Harrevelds befriended the Watters family, and they spent time visiting at each other’s homes and touring about San Luis Obispo county for picnics, barbeques, and fruit picking.

When the Port School held their graduation exercises in 1926, keeper Watters was on hand to introduce the guest speaker. Dorothy was cited for her perfect attendance record—neither absent nor tardy any day throughout her years at the school. That September, Della and Dorothy moved 10 miles inland, to San Luis Obispo, so that Dorothy could attend San Luis High School. There was no way for Dorothy to commute between the lighthouse and San Luis High, so she and her mother, like other mothers and lighthouse children of high-school age, spent school terms boarding in San Luis Obispo, returning to the lighthouse for visits during school breaks and summer vacations.

George Watters was an officer in the San Luis Obispo chapter of the Spanish American War Veterans, and Della was a member, and one-time president, of the Ladies’ Auxiliary. George Watters was also active in the Sciots, a fraternal organization devoted to aiding children in need. In 1927, the Sciots gave children from the detention home in San Luis Obispo an all-day outing, and Watters hosted them to a barbeque and picnic at the lighthouse.

Keeper and Mrs. Watters were also friends with Rev. Oscar D. McClung, pastor of the San Luis Obispo Baptist Church. On at least one occasion, in August of 1927, George and Della hosted McClung and his family at the light station, picnicking on the beach below the lighthouse and fishing from the breakwater, which extended from the lighthouse beach to nearby Whaler’s Island. Some of McClung’s sermons may have been inspired by his friendship with Watters and his lighthouse visits. The local paper wrote, in October of 1927:

At the evangelistic services at the Baptist church Monday night, Rev. O. D. McClung, pastor, gave the second of the series of 10 addresses on “Ten Flashes from God’s Lighthouse . . .”

In 1928, Watters described his duties as Point San Luis Keeper:

Operation and upkeep of fog signal. Operation and upkeep of 35 mm incandescent vapor light. Three hours of general station work five days a week. Eight hours of watch in twenty-four hours. Boating of mail, supplies, and freight into station. Upkeep of four miles of pipeline with intake box and water tanks. Upkeep of 14 buildings. Clerical work of station. Upkeep of station plumbing and painting. Upkeep of grounds, fences, hedges and gardens. Upkeep of mountain trail and telephone line (one mile of each). Upkeep of two fifty-foot wharves. Upkeep and operation of donkey boiler with boom and mast, etc. Upkeep of spur and can buoys. Upkeep of station skiff. Tending light buoy.

At that time, and indeed until 1962, there was no road to the light station; cars owned by keepers were garaged in the nearby town of Avila. The only practical access to the station was by water, although there was the rough “mountain trail” that hikers to the lighthouse could use and on which the lighthouse children traveled to get to and from the Port School, dodging cattle and, in hot weather, rattlesnakes. A telephone line connected the lighthouse to the Port San Luis pier.

Point Bonita

In September of 1929, Watters transferred to Point Bonita Lighthouse, replacing retiring Keeper John F. Ingersoll. Why he wanted to transfer is unknown, but a likely guess is that George and Della wanted to be closer to Shirley Jean, their only grandchild. During his service at the San Luis Light Station, George made a point of taking frequent trips north to visit his son and his family.

Before his departure for Point Bonita, members of the San Luis Obispo Spanish War Veterans and the Ladies’ Auxiliary threw Watters a surprise farewell party. The local newspaper paper noted that “the Watters family will be sincerely missed in this community, where they have many friends.” Della and Dorothy remained in San Luis Obispo until June, 1930, so that Dorothy could finish her junior year at San Luis High, then join keeper Watters at his new post. Two years later, Dorothy married Clifton J. Hall. A daughter, Carolyn Dorothy Hall—Watters’ second grandchild – was born in 1933.

The Watters family and the Van Harrevelds continued to stay in touch. After the family moved to Point Bonita, George and Della returned to Avila from time to time to visit the Van Harrevelds and other friends in the San Luis Obispo area, on one occasion bringing with them Dorothy and her daughter. On other occasions, George and Della would host the Van Harrevelds at Point Bonita.

On December 11, 1932, while Watters was on duty at Point Bonita, the fog signal was put in operation for two-and-a-half hours. This would not have been noteworthy had the signal been sounding on account of fog. But that was not the reason. The signal was sounding on account of heavy snow. According to a 1933 Lighthouse Service Bulletin report, “it was believed that this is the first time that snow has fallen in the vicinity of San Francisco Bay sufficiently heavy to require the sounding of the fog signals.”


Watters retired in 1941. Immediately following his retirement, George and Della traveled to Avila for another visit with the Van Harrevelds. But George and Della decided not to make Avila their home. Instead, they moved to Mill Valley, California likely because it was much closer to their children and granddaughters.

George Watters died just three years after his retirement, on September 4, 1944. He was 65 years old. The news of his death was announced in the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune, even though he had left the area some 15 years before.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2019 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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