Fannie May Salter feeding turkeys with her son in front of Turkey
Point Lighthouse, photo by Ralph C. Smith, August 1931
From National Register collection, courtesy of
the Ralph Smith Collection, Mariners' Museum, Newport News Virginia
Turkey Point Lighthouse
The Turkey Point Lighthouse, authorized by Congress in
1831 with the tower and keeper's quarters built in 1833, was tended
by more women keepers than any other lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay.
The first, Elizabeth Lusby, following her husband's death, replaced
him as keeper on May 8, 1844 and served until at least 1861. John Crouch,
appointed in 1865, was also replaced by his wife Rebecca L. Crouch after
he passed away. She served until her death on July 11, 1895. Their daughter,
Georgiana S. Brumfield, who lived at the station since the age of 16,
served as keeper from July 26, 1895 until 1919, retiring at age 70 after
living at Turkey Point for 54 years. C.W. "Harry" Salter served as keeper
from 1922 until his death in 1925. The Civil Service would not allow
his wife Fannie May Salter to assume his duties because of her age.
Mrs. Salter, however, appealed to her Senator, who brought the matter
to the White House. President Calvin Coolidge overruled the Civil Service
and allowed Fannie to act as keeper of the lighthouse.
Turkey Point Lighthouse
National Park Service photo by Ralph Eshelman, 1995
Before the station was electrified, Fannie would fill and light one
of the two lamps at dusk, climb the tower and place the lamp within
the lens, then recheck it about an hour later, and again at 10:00pm
before going to bed. From her bedroom in the keeper's quarters she could
see if the light was functioning properly and would awake immediately
if the light went out. Once, when the fog bell failed, she had to manually
strike the bell, which weighed 1,200 pounds and was struck with a 50-pound
clapper, four times a minute for 55 minutes until a steamer had safely
passed. In doing so Fannie was away from her phone when her son-in-law
called to tell her that her daughter had given birth to her granddaughter.
She said of her job as lighthouse keeper, "Oh, it was an easy-like chore,
but my feet got tired, and climbing the tower has given me fallen arches."
Fannie May Salter retired in 1947, at the age of 65, to a home six miles
away within sight of the lighthouse. Despite the loss of the keeper's
house and the fog-signal building, the Turkey Point Lighthouse is significant
as one of the earliest extant lighthouses in Maryland and as the home
to four women keepers.
For more information visit the Turkey Point Lightstation website.
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