How I Discovered Volunteering for the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration

Today we have something special to share with you, a guest post by Debby Lee Jagerman-Dungan of Debby’s Departures. It’s especially fun to share Debby’s post with you, as it shows how lighthouse fans inspire each other — Debby’s adventure with Burrows Island was sparked by the work of fellow lighthouse fans, writer Elinor DeWire and artist Janet Orso, of the Washington Lightkeepers Association. Although the WLA is unfortunately no longer active, the individual members continue to champion local lighthouses and the broader history of lighthouses, such as on Elinor’s blog, http://elinordewire.blogspot.com, and website, www.ElinorDeWire.com). Janet’s artwork also graces the Washington State Lighthouse license plates. Thank you so much, Debby, for sharing your experience, your writing and your photos with us, and many thanks to Elinor for allowing us to share an image of the WLA map (below). If you’d like to see more of Janet’s artwork, please click here.

How I Discovered Volunteering for the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration

Souvenir-Lighthouse-Map (2)To make a long story short, I discovered Burrows Island Light Station on a map that has been pinned to my wall, the “Souvenir Lighthouse Map of the Washington Lightkeepers Association.” It is to my left as I am typing this on my computer, and has been there for years. It shows where the 25 or so lighthouses are located in the state of Washington. I live near Seattle, and the map lives on my wall because, well, I have a fascination with lighthouses. I can’t remember exactly when or where I got this map, but needless to say, because of my love for lighthouses, my husband and I were married at the Mukilteo Lighthouse last year. And now I plan on volunteering to help restore the Keepers’ Quarters and Boathouse at Burrows Island Light Station.

To make a short story long, prior to discovering Burrows Island, my interest with lighthouses began, well, I don’t remember exactly when or why. Part of me is intrigued with the thought of wondering what it would have been like to be a child growing up at a lighthouse, where your father is working hard to keep people safe at sea. I have wondered what it would have been like to have been a wife of a lightkeeper, perhaps living in an isolated island, such as Burrows Island. The career itself of being a lightkeeper also seems exotic to me, especially as a woman. Perhaps I was a lightkeeper in a previous life.

Burrows-Island-Lighthouse (2)And then there is the beauty of lighthouses themselves, the architecture, the flash patterns of the lights, the Fresnel lenses, the landscapes they sit on, and the views they see overlooking the lakes, bays, seas, straits, sounds, and oceans of the world.

And so my story goes on. With my love of lighthouses, last year my husband and I spent two weeks traveling from the southwest corner of Washington State, down the Oregon Coast, to visit 12 lighthouses. We’ve walked the 10 miles round trip to the lighthouse on Dungeness Spit, one of my favorite spots on this planet is the lighthouse at Discovery Park, and as I mentioned, we got married at Mukilteo Lighthouse.

Burrows-Island-Light-Station-Keepers-Quarters (2)But the point of this story is how I discovered Burrows Island. After visiting those 12 lighthouses along the Washington and Oregon Coast, I wanted to visit more, hoping to someday see all 25 lighthouses in the State of Washington. And well, since there are 17,200 lighthouses in the world, then I’m on a start to see them all!

I wanted a sort of “staycation” and glanced over at that map on my wall, looking for where there was a concentration of lighthouses in one area, and zoomed in on the San Juan Islands, knowing that this was also a great location for hiking and other opportunities for travel and exploration. Patos Island, Turn Point, Lime Kiln, Cattle Point, and while one wasn’t technically in the San Juans, it was near Anacortes, the gateway to the ferry system to get to the San Juans, Burrows Island Light Station!

I did some research on how to get to each of these five lighthouses, and to make a long story short, found a boat company that transported us to Burrows Island. We spent an hour on the island walking around the grounds of the Lighthouse, Boathouse, and Keepers’ Quarters, eating a picnic lunch on a bench overlooking the Rosario Strait, taking pictures, and enjoying the peace and quiet of being the only ones there at the time. My mind wandered, as it always does when visiting a lighthouse, about what it would have been like…

Burrows-Island-Keepers-Quarters-Lighthouse (2)I will say now a bit about myself. I am an avid traveler, and I write travel blogs under the name Debby’s Departures. So upon returning from our trip to the San Juan Islands, in anticipation of writing a few blogs about the lighthouses, I did some further research on all the lighthouses, including Burrows Island, and excitedly found Northwest Schooner Society’s website on the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration. After clicking around for a bit, it seemed that they were still in the midst of restoring the Keepers’ Quarters and Boathouse. I contacted them right away, and voilà, this summer I am volunteering to help restore buildings at a lighthouse!

So thanks to that map on my wall, this is the story of how I discovered volunteering for the Burrows Island Light Station Restoration.

But wait there’s more…I have also volunteered to write for this “Notes from the Lighthouse” blog, including of my experiences volunteering. Until the next post, here are a few links to the blogs that I have written about various lighthouses. Thank you for reading!

Lighthouses of the San Juan Islands: Burrows Island, Cattle Point, and Lime Kiln

Lighthouses of the San Juan Islands: Patos Island and Turn Point

Lighthouses of the Oregon Coast

Walking Ten Miles Round Trip to the New Dungeness Lighthouse

West Point Lighthouse at Discovery Park in Seattle (and almost a Wedding)

The Mukilteo Lighthouse near Seattle (and a Wedding)

Please note that the artwork for the “Souvenir Lighthouse Map of the Washington Lightkeepers Association” was created by Coupeville, Washington artist Janet Orso. Although the Washington Lightkeepers Association is no longer active, you can learn more about it and the history of lighthouses on former president Elinor DeWire’s blog, elinoredewire.blogspot.com and website www.ElinorDeWire.com. Elinor can also be found on Facebook as Elinor DeWire, Author.

Debby Lee Jagerman-Dungan, Debby’s Departures

I’m on Facebook as Debby’s Departures!

Roses at the Island

This time of year, Burrows Island is aglow with delicate, native Nootka roses. Soft pink blossoms stud the low bushes and if you lean in, you’re rewarded with an absolutely heavenly scent.
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As I enjoyed the fragrance of the rosa nutkana last weekend, I imagined the earliest light keeper, an avid gardener, experiencing the same delight during his first rose-filled summer on Burrows Island.

The Way It Was Then

The Way It Was Then

D’Wanda White was a young wife and mother living at the lighthouse in the 1960s. In this short interview segment, D’Wanda shared some memories about life at Burrows Island. Take a peek!

The Northwest Schooner Society is working hard to put the light station back into the condition D’Wanda knew. Help us make that a reality by donating or volunteering.

Lighthouse Handbook

Have you seen the Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook? If you are curious how the Northwest Schooner Society team (and other groups like ours) make renovation decisions, you should check out the Handbook. The Nation Parks Service put this publication together in partnership with the Coast Guard, the U. S. Lighthouse Society, and the Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program and it’s a great resource for folks interested in historical construction and preservation techniques as well as anyone passionate about lighthouses.

You can read the Handbook here: http://www.nps.gov/maritime/handbook.htm

Lighthouse Excitement 1906

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On Thursday April 5, 1906, the Anacortes American published an article about the new lighthouse and introducing the first team of keepers — Captain James Hermann and his assistant Edward Pfaff. The reporter’s excitement is palpable — there is much discussion of Captain Hermann’s landscaping prowess and using the light station grounds as a picnic destination. It’s funny to read since we pretty much have the same goals and the same need for landscaping skills!

Here’s the full text of the article:

Lighthouse in Commission. Everything in Good Shape Says Captain J. B. Hermann Keeper.

The light at the Burrows Island light house was put in place and entered commission on April 1st, and Captain J. B. Hermann, keeper, and his assistant, Mr. Edward Pfaff, speak highly of the contractor who put up the buildings and of the engineer-corps, who placed the engines, which are working perfectly. The present light is a stationary one, but in six months the present lenses are to be removed and a revolving light is to be placed in their stead, carrying a red and white light of greater penetration. Captain Hermann is very much pleased with his location and it is safe to say that he will not be there long until that part of Burrows island will be a flower garden, for the captain loves the beautiful and along with his ability as a thorough light house man, he is no mean landscape gardener. Captain Hermann expects his family within two or three weeks. The Columbine has been tending the light house since the arrival of the keeper, whether or not it will continue in that capacity is not known.

The Burrows island light house is of much importance to navigation in this part of the Sound, it has been the cry of navigators for years, and now that we have it, and have been so fortunate as to secure Mr. Hermann as keeper and Mr. Pfaff as his assistant, we should endeavor in every way to make life pleasant for them. Mr. Hermann will go to work at once to beautify the grounds about the mansion and light house and it will not be long until Burrows island will be an attractive place for excursions and picnics.

It is understood the Pacific Wireless Telegraph Co. will in the near future establish a station on the island providing the government will give consent, which there is but little doubt but it will do, and if there is a possibility of getting telephone communications with the island that will also be done. The light house is a success in every way.

Many thanks to the Anacortes History Museum for providing scans of the originals, and to John, a fellow NW Schooner Society researcher, for passing on this clip.

Temporary Assistant Keeper Chas. G. Becker

In a previous post, I wrote a little about the Northwest Schooner Society’s research on the early lighthouse keepers at Burrows Island. We would like to create biographies for all the early keepers and their families; today I will share the beginning of our search for Chas G. Becker, a temporary assistant keeper in the early years.

There were quite a few men named “Chas” or “Charles Becker” in the US around 1900, including a beekeeper in Yakima, WA, two Pennsylvania coal miners, and an infamous New York police officer, who would later be sent to the electric chair for murder. Given the commonness of the name, I am still working on a solid identification of the Chas Becker, who ‘temped’ out at Burrows Island; however, Chas Becker of Port Townsend stands out as a likely candidate.

Chas Becker Headstone

Becker was a longtime resident of the Northwest, living at different times in Seattle and Valdez, Alaska, although he spent at least two decades in Port Townsend. Aside from geography, one factor that suggests this might be our man is that he was a healthcare provider, which could have been an attractive feature for a temporary keeper. If anyone were to need saving at the lighthouse, one can imagine that Becker would have been able to offer at least some help. The census of 1900 lists Becker as a “hospital worker” at Providence Hospital in Seattle. His 1918 draft registration card and the 1920 census list him as a nurse at St. John’s Hospital in Port Townsend, which was also run by the Sisters of Providence. In later years, Becker took on the less physically taxing position of chauffeur for St. John’s. Although we don’t have any pictures yet, WWI draft registration cards did include a physical description. Becker had blue eyes and dark hair. Unlike many of the permanent keepers, he was on the small side at 5’7.” Still, Becker was not scrawny. He is described as a man of “medium build,” which one might expect from a man who made his living lifting and maneuvering patients.

Like many of the early keepers, Becker was not born in the US, but in Europe. Becker emigrated at around 21 from the border region between France and Germany, then known as Alsace-Lorraine. At that time, the area was a territory of Germany, although it had long been home to both French and German speakers. Today, it is part of France (now that’s a long story in itself!).

A native speaker of French, one can imagine that Becker felt a special connection to the Sisters of Providence, an order founded in French-speaking Montreal, Canada. Like the Sisters themselves, Becker appears to have chosen a monastic life; in all the records I have found, his residence is listed as the hospitals were he worked. Becker also never married, listing his sister in Alsace-Lorraine as his nearest relative. Upon his death in 1935, Becker was buried at the local Catholic cemetery, St. Mary’s.

On a whim, I put in a photo request for his headstone on Findagrave.com and the community responded immediately. Two volunteers went to the site in Port Townsend and sent me photographs (thank you!). As you can see above, the headstone reads ” Chas Becker / 1873-1935 / died at St. John’s Hospital / faithful unto death.” As we know, Becker spent many years living and working alongside the Sisters of Providence;  the inscription underscores his devotion to the hospital and to the religious community he chose to join.

All these records paint a picture of a man with an unusual combination of adventurousness, religious faith, industry, and a twin desire for solitude and community. A French-speaking immigrant, this Chas Becker found his life’s work caring for others in his chosen homeland. Is he the Chas Becker, who served at Burrows Island Light Station? That remains to be seen. The next step in my research will be to contact the Providence Archives in Seattle and ask if they have any materials related to Chas Becker. Ideally, we would love to see his employment records and a portrait.

If you enjoyed this story or have questions, leave a note below. In the comment box, you should be able to sign up for email notification of new posts.

Lighthouse, 1929

Burrows Island Lighthouse, 1929

Gorgeous, right? In this official Coast Guard image, the lighthouse is shown against a backdrop of Puget Sound. If you look carefully, you can see the kelp bed just below the light station was just as vigorous back then. It seems there is an owl perched on the chimney, too. I love that the door is open, offering a tantalizing glimpse inside.

Compare that image (courtesy of the US Coast Guard) to one taken in September 2012.

Lighthouse

The lighthouse looks remarkably similar today, with very little having been changed on the exterior aside from the doors and the whitewashing of the trim, which were originally painted a light gray to contrast with the walls. Over the course of time, however, neglect has left the lighthouse in less-than-perfect condition:

Danger

Gutter Grass

We are looking forward to getting the lighthouse and the rest of the light station back into shape. It will take the help of many volunteers as well as cash investment of as much as $500,000. If you’d like to learn more, peruse our very detailed to-do lists or read a summary of the restoration process. You can also jump right in and help by making a donation on our secure FirstGiving site.

Seed Money? Speed Money!

Window Replacement

We’ve gotten some exciting grants for the preservation of the lighthouse this year, but all of them are very specific about what the funds can be used for. Unfortunately, many essentials (such as insurance and gas to boat out to the island) are not covered. If you’d like to make a big difference in the progress of the lighthouse restoration, consider making a donation: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/burrowslighthouse/burrowslighthousesfundraisingpage.

FirstGiving is a secure donation site and any size gift is appreciated.

Burrows Island, 1912

The U.S. Coast Guard Museum in Washington, D. C. came up with this amazing shot of the Light Station in 1912. Compare it to the picture from September 2012 in the header  — isn’t it amazing how the trees have closed in on the light station over the last hundred years? In fact, the Northwest Schooner Society has already removed a few trees that were too close to the historic buildings.

Burrows Island Light Station, 1912

Photo courtesy of the United States Coast Guard. Click the image above to check out a larger version on our Flickr stream. You can also see many more pictures of the lighthouse and outbuildings there.