Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2012

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Keeper Albert G. Anderson - Alki Point Light Station

By Jim Claflin


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We recently picked up some unusually revealing photos at auction that I thought would be of interest. The photos show Keeper Albert G. Anderson, one of the last civilian lighthouse keepers remaining in the Coast Guard in the 1970’s.

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Alki Point, Washington, marks the southern entrance to Seattle’s Elliott Bay. Hans Martin Hanson and his brother-in-law Knud Olson purchased the land at Alki Point in 1868 for $450. At night, they reportedly would light a lamp on the point as a service to mariners. In 1887, the Lighthouse Service recognized the need for a better light at this location and placed a lens-lantern atop a wooden post at the point. Hanson was hired to care for the light and was paid $15 a month for his efforts.

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Several years later, the Lighthouse Service upgraded the light and added a fog signal at the point. The present concrete fog signal building with attached, 37-foot octagonal tower was completed in 1913. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the light tower with a clockwork mechanism, powered by suspended weights, to rotate the lens and produce a flashing light. Alki Point Lighthouse became one of thirteen lights guarding the shores of Puget Sound.

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On July 1, 1939, two of the most respected government maritime services were combined - the U.S. Coast Guard (formed in 1915 by the merging of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service) and the U.S. Lighthouse Service. The Coast Guard had been under the Treasury Department and the Lighthouse Service, in recent years, was a bureau of the Department of Commerce. Under this Act, “the duties, responsibilities, and functions of the Commissioner of Lighthouses shall be vested in the Commandant of the Coast Guard,” and all personnel of the Lighthouse Service are consolidated with the Coast Guard personnel. In many cases, Lighthouse Service personnel were given Coast Guard commissions if they so chose, with ranks corresponding to their previous duties, or they could remain as civilian employees, now under Coast Guard jurisdiction. The civilian lighthouse keepers were allowed to remain in their jobs until retirement, when they were gradually replaced with Coast Guard personnel. No reduction in employment was made.

On July 7, the Bureau of Lighthouses, with all its equipment and staff, was moved from the Department of Commerce Building to Coast Guard Headquarters. For convenience and expedition in the administration and operation of this enlarged Coast Guard, the former Coast Guard divisions and sections and the former lighthouse districts were abolished and replaced by thirteen new Coast Guard districts.

One of the last civilian Lighthouse Service keepers on the west coast served at Alki Point until his retirement in 1970. Albert Anderson had joined the Service in 1927 and had served on lightships, lighthouse tenders and at several light stations. He was stationed first on the Columbia River Lightship, and later served at Tillamook Rock and Cape Blanco before transferring to Alki Point in 1950. When given the option in 1939, he chose to remain a civilian rather than to accept a Coast Guard commission.

At Alki Point, Anderson had an enjoyable career. He lived there in a comfortable home with his family, and had two Coast Guardsmen on site to assist him with operating and maintaining the facility. After 43years of service, 20 of them at Alki Point, Keeper Anderson retired and moved to a home close to the Grays Harbor Light, where he could still listen on foggy nights to the fog horn sounding its warning.

These wonderful photos show Keeper Anderson at his station during this period. Note his khaki Coast Guard uniform with embroidered lighthouse hat insignia. Note too as he holds the brass 4th order Lighthouse Service lamp, still used in the lens, in the event of loss of electricity at the station.

Such photos provide a wonderful look into the lives of the past keepers and are well worth preserving.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2012 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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