Few people, except those directly employed, realize the intertwining and interdependence of engineering organizations in the Federal Government. For example, the Lighthouse Service, which had the responsibility for maintenance of Aids to Navigation, depended on the Coast and Geodetic Survey for the charts of the coastal regions which showed the location and characteristics of the Aids for the mariner. The U.S. Engineer Department of the Army had the legislative responsibility to improve the rivers and harbors of the country. They dredged out the harbors and maintained thousands of miles of improved channels for shipping, built jetties and breakwaters all of which were marked by buoys, ranges, and lights by the Lighthouse Service.
There had to be complete cooperation among these services. Except in rare instances there was. In the past, the Engineers, under direction of the Lighthouse Board, had performed prodigious feats constructing coastal lighthouses, particularly in the days of sailing vessels and again in the 1880’s in bays and sounds as vessel traffic increased to inland cities. With the inspiration of these precedents in mind, I used the Cypress, Mangrove, Snowdrop, and Waterlily to assist in the Field Construction Work.
At Georgetown Light Station at the entrance to Winyah Bay, in South Carolina, the engineers had completed the entrance breakwater and the Lighthouse Service had established a minor light to mark the end. The Entrance Range had a dwelling for the assistant keeper across the Bay from the Georgetown Light Station. It was decided to centralize the work of the keepers at Georgetown Light Station and bring the assistant keeper’s dwelling across the Bay and consolidate the station.
With the never-failing help of Captain Redell of the Snowdrop, the following equipment was found in Georgetown and rented on bids: a house moving windless, a 100-ton barge, and a floating pile driver (with crew). A double row of trestle bents, far enough apart to admit the barge, was constructed on the Bay shore nearest the dwelling to be moved and a similar arrangement on the Bay shore opposite nearest to the Georgetown Light Station.
The assistant keeper’s dwelling, including a heavy fireplace chimney, was jacked up on cross and longitudinal timbers and moved with the windlass to the launching site on the shore. At low tide the deck barge was slipped under the dwelling. Near high tide it floated off, towed by the Snowdrop to the Georgetown side where it was received on the stage there and placed on its prepared foundation.
I discovered by experience that the whole seaboard in the district was underlaid with a bed of fine sand of indefinite depth. An attempt to drive any kind of a pile in this formation was like driving it into rock, but by using a water jet, a hole was made and the sand livened so the concrete pile almost sank in place with its own weight. A little churning up and down did the trick. The fine sand on settlement around the pile soon gave it tremendous stiffness and bearing power.
Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from "The Making of a Lighthouse Engineer," the unpublished memoirs of Commodore Frederick P. Dillon.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2018 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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