By Jason Lesley
Like a jeweler putting a diamond into a setting, Joe Cocking lifted the sparkling Fresnel lens from the Georgetown lighthouse into its display at the South Carolina Maritime Museum Sunday.
The lens was installed at the lighthouse in the 1870s and used for more than 100 years to direct ships into Winyah Bay. Visible for 10 to 15 miles out to sea, the Georgetown light was the first thing a ship’s captain would see once he sailed south from Cape Fear or north from Charleston, according to museum board member and author Mac McAlister.
The lens was removed in 1986 when the lighthouse beacon was automated. It has been on display at the Coast Guard’s 7th District headquarters in Miami since then.
“We’re getting it back to where it belongs,” said Petty Officer First Class Dave Browne, who is in charge of the Aids to Navigation team at the Georgetown Coast Guard Station. “The lens belongs with the lighthouse.”
Georgetown’s lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Browne said the Coast Guard hired Cocking, of the Lighthouse Lamp Shop in Orange Park, Fla., to transport the lens from Miami to Georgetown once the 10-year loan agreement with the museum was approved. “He’s a certified professional in handling these lenses,” Browne said. “It’s basically priceless.”
The museum was required to build a secure enclosure with a pedestal for the lens, buy a lamp to illuminate it, and insure it for $250,000. Randy Kinard, a cabinetmaker and past competitor in the Georgetown Wooden Boat Challenge, built a wood and glass enclosure that resembles the lighthouse’s lantern room. It’s not exact because the glass enclosure at the top of the Georgetown lighthouse has 10 sides. Kinard’s reproduction has a simpler eight sides, but the dimensions of the room are the same.
“They used to do odd ball things every once in awhile,” Cocking said of the 10-sided lantern room. “This is a very nice display. I like the enclosure.”
Cocking showed museum personnel how to clean the lens so he won’t have to return for an inspection until the 10-year loan agreement is nearly complete.
There is no serial number on the lens, making it hard to date, Browne said. The lens gets its name from Augustin Fresnel, a French physicist who invented the system of glass prisms that focus light from a diffuse source into a beam. The Georgetown lighthouse had a smaller, fifth-order lens as opposed to one at a major port like Charleston with a first-order lens.
The first lighthouse at North Island was built in 1801 after two Clipper ships ran aground and sank near the entrance to Winyah Bay. Made of cypress, the lighthouse stood 72 feet high. A keeper and an assistant kept the lamp burning with whale oil from a tank on the grounds. A storm in 1806 destroyed the wooden lighthouse, and it was replaced with a brick structure that had walls 6 feet thick. Its weight was supported by 23 feet of rock that had been used as ships’ ballast and discarded at Georgetown’s port. The lighthouse stood up to the mighty 1822 hurricane but was damaged in the Civil War when Rear Admiral John Dahlgren ordered Union cannons to fire on it because it had been a Confederate lookout post. Angry Georgetown residents fashioned an explosive mine from a 100-pound keg of gunpowder and scrap metal and sank Dahlgren’s flagship, the Harvest Moon.
Repairs in 1867 extended the lighthouse to 87 feet in height as commerce increased. The keeper’s duties included whitewashing the tower, maintaining the grounds around North Island, cleaning the lamp, trimming the wicks and carrying buckets of kerosene up the 124 spiraling stone steps to the lantern room until electric lights were installed. The lighthouse no longer needed keepers after being automated in 1986.
The museum is located at 729 Front St., Georgetown, and is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Admission is free.
by Debbie Merlo, for The Sun News, May 1, 2014
A piece of Georgetown’s history will be on display at 729 Front St. in Georgetown as early as June.
The Fresnel lens, a glass enclosure designed to concentrate light rays, was once an integral part of the Georgetown lighthouse and it is being brought home from Florida through the efforts of the South Carolina Maritime Museum and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Lighthouses, the lofty lookouts and beacons used for centuries to guide ships safely into port, were once equipped with lamps lit by whale oil. The light produced by the lamps reflected off the crystal prism glass of the Fresnel lens and was visible as far as 15 miles out to sea. The lens gets its name from its inventor, Augustin Fresnel, a French physicist.
“Thousands, not hundreds, of ships have used the lighthouse lens to guide them into Georgetown,” said Robert “Mac” McAlister, board member of the museum since 2011 and the chairperson for the acquisitions and exhibits committee.
McAlister, who has written three books on maritime history, including “The Lumber Boom of Coastal South Carolina” and “Wooden Ships on Winyah Bay,” explained the Georgetown lighthouse is still operating and is located on the uninhabited North Island near the mouth of the Winyah Bay and the entrance to the Atlantic Ocean.
Built in 1811, the 88-foot structure is the oldest lighthouse in South Carolina and is only accessible by boat. Before that, a wooden lighthouse was built in 1801 but it blew down in 1806, according to McAlister.
Working with McAlister and the South Carolina Maritime Museum is U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class David Browne, the officer in charge of Aids to Navigation.
“We fix lights and provide maintenance for the lighthouses,” said Browne, who is in charge of the station in Georgetown which provides services to the federally managed waters from North Carolina to the Isle of Palms in Charleston.
Browne compared what he does to days gone by, dubbing his duties as a “modern-age lighthouse keeper.”
Browne also explained the lenses were used up until the late 1800s, then were eventually replaced with rotating beacons which run off solar power and batteries, “similar to a car battery.”
The light that lit the way from inside the Georgetown lighthouse eventually wound up at the U.S. Coast Guard’s 7th District headquarters in Miami, where it’s been on display at their museum.
TBrowne is “a big advocate” of the homecoming.
“We want to share it with who it belongs and we’re excited to be able to do that,” he said.
However, in addition to the cost of around $10,000 to ensure the safe return of the lens, said McAlister, the South Carolina Maritime Museum had to petition the Coast Guard for the return with an application for approval.
The Coast Guard will cover some of the cost to get the lens back to South Carolina, but the museum is responsible for paying most of the cost.
The application requesting the return is known as a “long term loan” and is sent to a curator’s office for review and approval. The application must be reviewed, then approved by a curator, explained both McAlister and Browne.
Approval for the museum to have the Fresnel lens on loan took “somewhere around four to five months,” said Browne.
The loan of the lens – which remains government property – is good “for 10 years,” Browne said. “Then it has to be renewed every 10 years.”
Loan of the lens also comes contingent with stringent criteria that must be met prior to approval being granted:
• The museum must provide a minimum of $250,000 liability insurance.
• The lens must be displayed properly in an enclosed, protected space that will keep the lens from being touched by visitors.
• A historical placard must be visible to visitors.
McAlister said an enclosure is being built for the lens, which will be transported to South Carolina by an authorized vehicle and packed by Coast Guard-approved professionals.
“It’s packed and ready to go and should be here in (about) a month,” said McAlister.
Donations to assist the museum to offset the cost of the return of the Fresnel lens can be made by going to www.scmaritimemuseum.org or by calling the museum at 520-0111.
The museum is located at 729 Front St., Georgetown, and is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Admission is free.
The lighthouse on North Island is the oldest operating lighthouse in South Carolina and one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the United States. The eighty-foot conical brick tower was completed in 1812, replacing a 72-foot cypress lighthouse that was built in 1801 and destroyed by a storm in 1806. Until 1854, whale oil fueled lamps and reflectors generated a fixed all-around white light and guided ships at sea across Winyah Bay’s shallow bar on their way to Georgetown. In 1854, the lamps and reflectors were replaced by a much more efficient Fresnel lens, which burned less oil and cast its beam further out to sea. During the Civil War, the lighthouse was damaged and the lens destroyed. In 1867, the lighthouse was repaired and a new Fresnel lens was installed and remained in operation for 120 years, until the light was automated by the United States Coast Guard in 1986.
The removed Fresnel lens is presently located in the lobby of the USCG 7th District headquarters building in Miami, Florida. In 2012, the South Carolina Maritime Museum applied to the USCG artifact collections curator to bring the lens back to South Carolina. In January, 2014, the South Carolina Maritime Museum finally received approval from the USCG to display the lens in the museum in Georgetown. The cost of transporting, protecting and displaying the historic and fragile 300-pound reflective glass lens is significant. The South Carolina Maritime Museum has established The Friends of the Lens fund where donations can be made to help the museum “Bring Back the Light”.
Please help bring this beautiful lens back home to Georgetown to be displayed at the S.C. Maritime Museum where it can be viewed and enjoyed by the general public. The cost to move, exhibit and insure the lens will be $10,000. Please make a donation online HERE or send a donation payable to the SC Maritime Museum to:
The SC Maritime Museum
PO Box 2228
Georgetown, SC 29442
The SC Maritime Museum is operated by the Harbor Historical Association (HHA), a 501(c)(3) organization. All contributions will be recognized on the Friends of the Lens donor page of this website.
To read more visit:
- “Georgetown lighthouse lens returning home; will be on display at maritime museum”
by Debbie Merlo
- Lighthouse Friends
- The National Park Service Inventory of Historic Light Stations
By Becky Billingsley
A new display at the South Carolina Maritime Museum in Georgetown called “HENRIETTA, the Largest Wooden Sailing Ship Ever Built in South Carolina,” effectively combines illustrations and illuminations to explain the huge amount of resources needed to construct the square-rigged HENRIETTA.
With a backdrop of brick walls and canvas partitions, the HENRIETTA’S story is told in a series of photos, maps, paintings, diagrams and narratives. Museum volunteer and author, Robert “Mac” McAlister, with help from his wife, Mary, designed the rustically attractive exhibit. His book published in 2011, “Wooden Ships on Winyah Bay,” discusses the HENRIETTA, and his recently published book, “The Lumber Boom of Coastal South Carolina: Nineteenth-Century Shipbuilding & the Devastation of Lowcountry Virgin Forests,” goes into even more detail about this dramatic historic event.
It was 1874 when William McGilvery and Captain Jonathan C. Nickels decided to build a 200-foot-long, square-rigged Downeaster (an advanced for the times 3-masted square rigged cargo ship) at Bucksville. Located a short distance north of present-day Bucksport, Bucksville once had 700 residents who worked in a thriving local logging industry.
The partners enlisted more than a dozen friends and relatives to finance construction of South Carolina’s first and only Downeaster, and in the fall of 1874 more than 100 craftsmen arrived in Bucksville from the shipbuilding Mecca of Searsport, Maine.
First 1.3 million feet of wood, mostly longleaf pine, had to be cut and milled, and then the building began. The exhibit includes a section of a virgin bald cypress log cut during this time that was a sapling in the 13th century.
“The men worked from sunup to sundown, six days a week, throughout the cold drizzly winter,” McAlister writes. “As the frames were tilted upright by block and tackle, their tops extended more than forty feet above the river, higher than anything else in the little village behind the ship. When the 200-foot-long ship was framed up, she looked like a cathedral. Steamboats and flats, passing Bucksville on their way to and from Georgetown, gawked at the huge structure rising on the riverbank.”
After almost eight months, the HENRIETTA was “…201 feet long, 39 feet wide, 24 feet deep when loaded and 13 feet deep as launched.” She was so immense, McAlister said, a raft of empty turpentine barrels had to be used to help tow her into deep water, and she still scraped bottom a few times. Once in Charleston the ship was rigged with 24 sails and, “She carried a skysail on her mainmast, whose topmast towered 147 feet above the deck.”
After the HENRIETTA left South Carolina, she never returned. Her building cost of $77,368.06 turned out to be a wise investment as she spent the next 19 years sailing the world and delivering cargo, including being one of the last sailing ships to deliver tea from China to New York City. The only known photograph of the Henrietta was taken in Kobe, Japan, in 1894 just after a typhoon ran her aground and destroyed her bottom.
“All of the pine and oak timbers from the forests of Bucksville, South Carolina, were cut into small pieces and sold in bundles to the citizens of Kobe for use in their stoves and fireplaces,” McAlister wrote.
Such ambitious wooden shipbuilding was never again attempted in South Carolina. The HENRIETTA was among the last major square-rigged wooden ships ever built in the world before steam engines and iron frames dominated the industry.
You can read more about the HENRIETTA here: The Largest Wooden Ship Ever Built in South Carolina
The Lumber Boom of Coastal South Carolina
This 18 minute documentary video includes the history of the HENRIETTA (at about the 6 minute mark). The documentary can be seen at the SC Maritime Museum as part of the HENRIETTA exhibit. The exhibit and video were funded by a Georgetown County Accommodations Tax grant.
Five days after the Front Street fire that occurred on 9/25/13 the museum received an email from artist Keith Wilkie who lives in McLean, VA:
“So very sorry about all the fire damage in Georgetown. I’ve been following reports since that morning last week. Very glad to hear that your building seemingly made it through – but hope your exhibited materials didn’t suffer too much smoke or water damage. Anyway, trying to find a way to help. I am an artist, and if you are interested, I would like to donate to the museum an original 11×14 painting I completed earlier this year of the USS Carolina, built in nearby Charleston, launched in 1812 and played a critical part in the war of 1812. It’s in a gold frame and an image is attached. If you are interested in having this painting, please let me know and I will gladly ship it or personally deliver it when next down that way…We routinely visit Georgetown with friends and family… and are anxious to see it’s comeback. Had lunch in Buzz’s just two weeks ago. I used to live in Charleston, have 10+ generations of ancestry from the Carolinas and still have close family living on the coast. It was really painful seeing the clips showing the blaze being fought last week. ”
He included this history of the USS CAROLINA from Wikipedia:
“USS Carolina, a schooner, was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the British colony that became the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. Her keel was laid down at Charleston, South Carolina. She was purchased by the Navy while still on the stocks, launched on 10 November 1812, and commissioned on 4 June 1813 with Lieutenant J. D. Henley in command.
Carolina set sail for New Orleans, Louisiana, and while making her passage, captured the British schooner Shark. Arriving at New Orleans 23 August 1814, she began an active career of patrol directed against possible British action as well as the pirates that infested the Caribbean Sea. On 16 September 1814, Carolinaattacked and destroyed the stronghold of the notorious Jean Lafitte on the island of Barataria.
Carolina, with the others of the small naval force in the area, carried out the series of operations which gave General Andrew Jackson time to prepare the defense of New Orleans when the British threatened the city in December 1814. On 23 December, she dropped down the river to the British bivouac which she bombarded with so telling an effect as to make a material contribution to the eventual victory. As the British stiffened their efforts to destroy the naval force and to take the city,Carolina came under heavy fire from enemy artillery on 27 December. The heated shot set her afire, and her crew was forced to abandon her. Shortly after, she exploded.”
Museum board member Mac McAlister wrote back to Keith to accept the painting:
“Thank you very much for your offer to donate your painting of the USS CAROLINA.The South Carolina Maritime Museum in Georgetown is pleased to accept your kind offer. At this time, the museum is undergoing repairs, particularly odor removal, and preparing for the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show on October 19. We should be back to normal by 1 December, which would be a good time to arrange to accept and give proper publicity to receiving the painting. We will keep in contact with you as that time approaches. Meanwhile, we hope to see you at the boat show.”
On December 23, 2013 Keith presented his painting of the USS CAROLINA to the South Carolina Maritime Museum.
The SC Maritime Museum was miraculously spared from the destruction of the Front Street fire that occurred on September 25, 2013. Seven adjacent buildings were totally destroyed by the fire, but the eighteen inch brick wall on the fire side apparently was enough barrier to keep the Museum whole. Even though the devastation to Front Street was horrific and the museum had suffered smoke and water damage there was never any doubt that the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show would go on as plannned for Saturday, October 19th. The community rallied and just three and a half weeks after the fire, Georgetown had the biggest and best boat show ever.
The Georgetown Propeller Club and the South Carolina Maritime Museum teamed up with Lowcountry Marine Salvage to place the propeller from the wreck of the Leif Eriksson outside of the museum on Front Street.
“We’re all excited about the propeller being part of our collection here at the S.C. Maritime Museum,” said Susan Sanders, executive director of the museum. “It will be displayed prominently, leaning against the museum building facing toward Front Street.”
The propeller, which measures more than 14 feet in diameter and is estimated to weigh over 22,000 pounds, was moved by Liberty Terminals of Georgetown from Hazzard Marine down Front Street to the museum location.
Members of the Propeller Club worked with Lowcountry Marine Salvage to coordinate the equipment and logistics for lifting the propeller from the salvage ship docked off Front Street onto a flatbed trailer and then having it placed by crane or forklift into the final display location on Front Street.
Sanders said that the museum will show a video produced by RS Taylor Media that shows the discovery of the boat and raising of the propeller.
To see that video now go HERE
|The Leif Eriksson
The Leif Eriksson was carrying a load of sugar from Cuba to Philadelphia on February 4, 1905 when it was struck by a steamship named City of Everett off the coast of Cape Romain, S.C. during a winter gale with limited visibility.
The ship sank in less than 10 minutes and the lifeboats and crew of the Leif Eriksson were picked up by the City of Everett.
The City of Everett returned to New York, and news of the ship wreck never reached South Carolina because of a winter storm that snapped the telegraph lines into Charleston.
The historic propeller, lost when the ship sank, was recovered off the sea floor near Georgetown and is on loan from Lowcountry Marine Salvage to preserve our maritime history. The wreck was known as the Anchor Wreck to local divers, and the ship was identified by Mike Barnett in 2007 using recovered artifacts provided by Kent Rogerson.
Although the wreck of the Leif Eriksson was fished on and dived on for 100 years, it’s identity was unknown until 2007, when a February 1905 article in the New York Times, describing the collision, was discovered and linked to the wreck.
The efforts of Lowcountry Marine Salvage to preserve the history of this wreck saved this propeller from being sold into the scrap metal market. Last Tuesday night and early into Wednesday morning, the crew of the Rio Bravo worked tirelessly to save the propeller from pirate scrappers that threatened to take this piece of history and melt it down for profit.
“Fortunately, the crew of the Rio Bravo was working nearby and got to the wreck of the Leif Eriksson just in time to save this historical find.” said S.C. Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, a principal of Lowcountry Marine Salvage along with Kent Rogerson and Billy Kennon.
“This important recovery could not have been made without the relentless passion and pursuit of these shipwrecks by the partners and the crew.”
For more information, call the S.C. Maritime Museum at 843-520-0111.
By Clayton Stairs email@example.com
Susan Sanders and Mac McAlister, both with the SC Maritime Museum, and Steve Strickland with the Georgetown County Propeller Club contributed to this story.
The Wreck of the Leif Eriksson Prop Salvage (August 2013)
Staff members and volunteers at the South Carolina Maritime Museum work to make their displays and activities useful, relevant and fun for the Georgetown community, and one of the many ways they accomplish these goals is by providing practical experience credit for college students.
22-year-old Walt Poston is an Andrews native who attended Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia. He needed one more requirement to earn his bachelor’s of history: an internship.
S.C. Maritime Museum director Susan Sanders was happy to offer Poston the chance to complete his degree by creating a new museum display merging community commerce with maritime history. The topic was perfect for the young man who likes approaching history from the perspective of social interaction.
|Museum board members Sid Hood and Sally Swineford own the River Room Restaurant located a few steps away from the museum. The River Room is in a circa 1888 waterfront building that was originally the J.B. Steele Building, and in it were two businesses known as the Steele-Moses stores. One of them was the J.B. Steele Grocery and Drygoods store where customers could buy a vast array of goods, from groceries and grease to hardware and hats.
When Hood and Swineford went into the building’s attic they discovered a treasure trove of late 19th century documents including shipping receipts, business checks and letters. Some pieces are framed and on display in the restaurant, but many more documents were unseen. Walt Poston was given the job of displaying the items in a way that would connect them to the area’s maritime history.
With help and guidance from Sanders, museum historian Robert “Mac” McAlister and Julie Warren of the Georgetown Digital Library, Poston learned how to interpret the dozens of documents. He discovered how John Burness Steele had a sales agent in New York City who found goods through manufacturers and wholesalers in major cities like St. Louis, Chicago, Baltimore Philadelphia and New York, and he and bought them in bulk. The wares were then shipped to Georgetown on Clyde Line steamships that traveled between New York City and Jacksonville, Florida.
Once the goods arrived in Georgetown, Steele filled orders for customers who lived along area waterways.
“Mr. Steele would pay steamboats like the Waccamaw Steam Liners to ship the goods to his customers. He sent them everything, like brooms, plows, grease, muskets and stove pipes. They shipped everything…through the waterways. There weren’t any Mack Trucks – the waterways were the highways.”
The display contains several receipts and checks for such goods, and Poston described their relevance to locals’ lives through captions, in a flow diagram. It illustrates how the Georgetown port was an important commerce hub. The documents have intricately beautiful letterheads and illustrations such as sailing ships, and their transaction information brings alive a time when the maritime industry was critical for everyday transactions.
Of particular note is a significant document any museum would be proud to display – a letter beautifully hand-written by Elizabeth Allston Pringle, a noted Georgetown writer who published “A Woman Rice Planter” in 1914 and “Chronicles of Chicora Wood” in 1922. Both books eloquently describe life before, during and after the Civil War.
In the letter at the S.C. Maritime Museum, Pringle wrote to J.B. Steele about a stovepipe she ordered. It’s a mundane topic, but for Poston it’s an exciting peek into the lives of those who depended on area waterways.
“I feel like you can bring local history to life through displays like this,” he said. “It’s good for the community. And I’ve learned a lot [during my internship] about how a non-profit organization stays afloat. I wouldn’t mind staying involved…They have the support of the community and the right motivation to move forward.”
Want to know more about Walt Poston’s display? The Georgetown County Library Teen Producer Club made a video about it:
Lowcountry Waterways: Commerce and Transportation of the Late 1800s
The South Carolina Maritime Museum in Georgetown had a surprise visitor on Feb. 23, 2013, when Florida resident Albert Foxwell Paul Jones, the 84-year old son of Captain Robert O. Jones of the schooner ALBERT F. PAUL, toured the museum.
Jones was in town visiting his sister, Georgetown resident Laura Jones Meyer, and a new grandchild who also lives in Georgetown.
Museum director Susan Sanders gave Jones an exhibit tour that includes schooner photographs similar to the ALBERT F. PAUL, which visited Georgetown many times during the 1920s and 1930s to load lumber.
Jones was named after the ALBERT F. PAUL. During his early years he lived aboard the schooner with his parents and older sister as the PAUL sailed in the Atlantic Ocean between Georgetown and ports in the northeastern United States. Several of Mr. Jones’ experiences aboard the ship are related in Robert H. Burgess’ book, Coasting Schooner: the Four-Masted ALBERT F. PAUL, and in Mac McAlister’s book, Wooden Ships on Winyah Bay.
Captain Robert O. Jones commanded the PAUL from 1924 through 1940. When the ship was sold in 1941, the captain returned to his home in Georgetown and served on several other ships before his death in 1963.
The ALBERT F. PAUL, under new ownership, sailed in March 1942 from Turks Island, Bahamas, with a load of salt bound for Norfolk, Va. About 160 miles off Cape Hatteras she was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. There were no survivors.
The beautiful four-masted ALBERT F. PAUL was among the last of the wooden sailing schooners built during World War I. She was 174 feet in length, 37 feet in beam and 14 feet in depth, with a gross tonnage of 735.