Digest>Archives> April 2010

Collecting Nautical Antiques

U.S. Lighthouse Tender Hickory

By Jim Claflin


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We recently obtained a wonderful photograph of a lighthouse tender tied up to a depot pier. Upon investigation we found the vessel to be the Lighthouse Service tender Hickory, built in 1932 to replace the USLHT Pansy. The small but unusually clear view shows the tender tied up at the buoy dock with her deck loaded tightly with buoys.

Lighthouse tenders, the lifeline to the keepers of America’s lighthouses and lightships, towed lightships, tended buoys, carried necessities and saved lives day and night, in weather fair or foul. Without these services the keepers of America’s lighthouses and lightships could not have survived.

The Hickory was built at Maine’s Bath Iron Works at a cost of $152,480 and launched on February 13, 1933. She measured 131’4” long, with a displacement 438 tons and was powered by one triple expansion steam engine, powering a single propeller. She served with a complement of 4 officers and 16 men.

The Hickory was built as a coastwise tender and was assigned to the 3rd Lighthouse District for use in tending aids to navigation in New York Bay and Long Island Sound. She was based out of the Lighthouse Depot at St. George on Staten Island.

In 1939 she came under the control of the Coast Guard. During World War II she was designated WAGL-219, given light armament including two 20mm guns and two depth charge racks and continued to tend aids to navigation in New York Bay and Long Island Sound.

From 1946 until her decommissioning, the Hickory continued operating out of Coast Guard Base St. George, operating now with one warrant officer and 22 men. In addition to the mundane job of tending buoys, she did come to the aid of a number of vessels. On July 2, 1950 she assisted the motor vessels Sandcraft and Melrose following their collision in New York harbor. Again on March 9, 1957 she assisted the motor vessel Steel Admiral, the tanker Val T, and water taxi Oscar Gordon following their collision off Brooklyn.

She was decommissioned on January 10, 1967 and was sold on April 28, 1969.

If you would like more information on tenders of the Lighthouse Service, a great resource is U.S. Lighthouse Service Tenders, by Douglas Peterson (U.S.C.G. Retired). Published in 2000, this is the only book to feature all of the lighthouse tenders and auxiliary craft of the United States Lighthouse Service from 1840 until 1939. More than 150 years ago the first tender was launched, to be followed by 300 ships of varying design used for lighthouse service-all of which are presented in this thoroughly researched book. Vintage photographs, drawings, plans and statistics

illustrate the historic profile of each ship.

With over 175 black & white photos and plans, this book would be a fine addition

to any lighthouse library.

Another little known account is: All Among The Lighthouses Or The Cruise Of The Goldenrod, by Mary Bradford Crowninshield ( Boston. 1886. 392pp.) With beautifully illustrated embossed covers, this is a story based on the operations of the U.S. Lighthouse Tender IRIS as

she tended lights in the First Lighthouse

District in the 1880’s. Dedicated to the crew of the Tender Iris, this makes fine reading and should be included in every lighthouse library. Included are excellent b/w illustrations as well as a color USLHE First District map with her route indicated.

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Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this type since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, Ma., 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@LighthouseAntiques.net or visit his web site at www.LighthouseAntiques.net

This story appeared in the April 2010 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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