Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lighthouse Libraries

Raspberry Island Lighthouse Bookcase

Pottawatomie Lighthouse Bookcase

My wife is a big fan of lighthouses and we have visited many of these historic structures over the years.  On occasion my interest in library history and her interest in lighthouse history overlap. This is the case with the traveling libraries of the U.S. Light House Establishment, a predecessor to the U. S. Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. I first became aware of these libraries while visiting the Raspberry Island Lighthouse in Wisconsin's beautiful Apostle Islands. That lighthouse has one of the original traveling library bookcases (shown above). Later I came across a very nice reproduction of a traveling library bookcase in the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island in Door County, WI (shown above). A number of lighthouses across the country have similar reproductions. More recently I became aware of an original lighthouse bookcase that is owned by the Milwaukee Historical Society.  It was one of the featured items in their 2010 75th anniversary "Unlocking the Vault" digital exhibit.  I have also just acquired a book for my collection that has a Light House Establishment bookplate (shown above). The book is Illustrated Natural History by J. G. Wood published by a London publisher in 1886.  The lighthouse traveling libraries program was started by the USLHE in 1876 to provide reading materials to isolated lighthouse keepers and their families. This was a number of years before Melvil Dewey started the traveling library program of the New York State Library which spread throughout the United States. More on the USLHE traveling library program can be found HERE.


TheAncientOne said...

The Light House Establishment has slightly murky beginnings going back to 1789 when the federal government assumed responsibility for light houses. The Secretary of the Treasury was nominally in charge although the main work seems to have fallen on the 5th auditor who was referred to as the "general superintendant of the Light-House Establishment." The Light-House Establishment was reorganized into the Light-House Board, temporarily in 1851, permanently in 1852. The Light-House Board remained in the Treasury Department until 1903, when it was moved into the Commerce and Labor Department. Publications of the Establishment are located in Superintendant of Documents classification T25, and after transfer to the C&L department C9. The Coast Guard was not established until 1915, and the Light-House Board became part of the Coast Guard in 1939. About a third of the way down this page there is a link to a history of the Light-House Service. I did not find any publications in the 1909 Checklist relating directly to the library program, although there is mention of an 1861 publication relating to Charles Babbage's method of distinguishing light-houses that I am going to have to look at.

Larry T. Nix said...

Thanks AncientOne for this nice summary of the history of the Light House Establishment and its successors.

Anonymous said...

If you've not visited Split Rock Light on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, please do so! It's a State Park, and the visitor center is great, the film they show about the light is great, the setting is beautiful, the light and environs also really lovely.

Larry T. Nix said...

I totally agree with all you said about Split Rock Light. The Lake Superior lakeshore in Minnesota is fantastic.