Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lighthouse Keepers

A reader recently asked about Ocracoke's lighthouse keepers. Although I wrote about this in 2012 I am republishing that post in answer to the current question:

Ocracoke Lighthouse was put into service in 1823. It is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina. A dozen men have served as Keepers of the Ocracoke Light.

The keeper was responsible for lighting the lamp at sunset, ensuring that it remained lit throughout the night, and extinguishing it at sunrise. The lamp needed to be filled with fuel daily, and the wick trimmed regularly. The Fresnel lens and lantern room windows had to be cleaned and polished every morning. Keepers were required to shine and polish all of the brass, sweep the floors and stairs, and clean tower windows and sills as needed. They also cleaned, painted, and repaired all of the buildings, including the keeper's dwelling, chimneys, privies, outbuildings, and the tower itself. In addition, keepers were required to maintain all mechanical equipment, weed walkways, paint and maintain the fence, and see that the grounds were presentable. They kept a log book, recorded weather readings, and kept an inventory of all equipment. Keepers were forbidden to leave the light station without permission, and were considered to be on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They even provided visitors with tours of the lighthouse as needed.

Lighthouse Keeper was a formidable job. Below are the Keepers of the Ocracoke Light, all highly skilled and dedicated public servants:

  • Joshua Taylor (or Tayloe), 1823-1829 (his title was Collector [of Customs] & Superintendent of Lighthouse)
  • Anson Harker, 1829-1846 (first person of record listed as Keeper; Joshua Taylor was listed as Superintendent)
  • John Harker, 1847-1853 (probably Anson Harker's son)
  • Thomas Styron, 1853-1860
  • William J. Gaskill, 1860-1862
  • Enoch Ellis Howard 1862-1897 (the longest serving Keeper; he died in office)
  • J. Wilson Gillikin 1897-1898
  • Tillman F. Smith 1898-1910
  • A.B. Hooper 1910-1912
  • Leon Wesley Austin 1912-1929
  • Joseph Merritt Burrus 1929-1946 (the beacon was electrified in 1929)
  • Clyde Farrow 1946-1954 (an employee of the US Coast Guard, not the Lighthouse Service, he was assigned as the last Keeper of the Ocracoke light; the beacon was fully automated in 1954)
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter, a newspaper article published in 1923 titled "Quaintest Town in America," provides a fascinating glimpse of Ocracoke Island life a century ago. You can read it here:
https://www.villagecraftsmen.com/quaintest-town-america-n-c-island/ .


  1. Anonymous7:24 AM

    Wow, I bet a woman would think being Mrs Lighthouse Keeper would be awesome. Sounds like he would make a great House Keeper too. Now when I read an ad in the classified section looking for help and the ad says light house keeping I will think twice about responding.

  2. That was very interesting, and so thorough, I don’t even
    have a question.
    Thanks so much, Philip.