Harlan E. Sterling is shown here on a recent visit to the Georgia’s Tybee Island Lighthouse. He was not your normal tourist on his visit to the lighthouse, because he actually lived a large portion of his life servicing aids to navigation, including lighthouses. And he is one of the last surviving employees of the United States Lighthouse Service.
After growing up on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, Maine, he joined the United States Lighthouse Service in January 1934 when he was seventeen years old. He served as crewmember on the lighthouse tender Hibiscus out of Portland, Maine. He recalls on his first day of duty he arrived on board the ship with the clothes on his back and
a small duffle bag of personal items. He was immediately handed
a bucket and a large cake of yellow soap for washing paint as well
as his clothes.
He recalls servicing many lighthouses and buoys from New Hampshire all the way up the Maine coast to the St. Croix River Lighthouse and Whitlock’s Mill Lighthouse. In 1936 he was sent to Maine’s Seguin Island Lighthouse for two months of temporary duty as lighthouse keeper due to the illness of another keeper. At that time Millard H. Urquhart was the keeper at Seguin.
After duty at Seguin Island Lighthouse he returned to duty on board the Hibiscus and remained a crewmember until 1939 when the Lighthouse Service was merged into the Coast Guard. At that time he was transferred to a lighthouse and buoy tender in Puerto Rico and over the years he served on a number of other Coast Guard vessels including the Spruce, Cowslip, Nettle and Violet. He retired from the Coast Guard in 1965 as a CWO4, and now resides with his son and daughter in law in Savannah, Georgia.
He truly is the last of his kind.
This story appeared in the
April 2008 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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