This past April, the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society honored six lighthouse keepers, all in the same day, with the placement of U.S. Lighthouse Memorial Grave Markers at their tombstones at four different cemeteries.
Freezing rain and gusting wind did not deter the dozens of descendants, lighthouse aficionados, and Coast Guard personnel who attended the ceremonies in the four cemeteries in Matthews County, Virginia.
The lighthouse keepers who were honored were Floyd Earl Crewe, Charles Linwood Sadler, Clarence Walter “Harry” Salter, Fannie May Salter, John Filmore Hudgins, and Charles Edwin Respess. If the lighthouse keepers were alive today they would probably be dismayed that many of the lighthouses where they served so faithfully have been destroyed, but they would be honored that they were finally recognized for their dedication to saving the mariner at sea.
Floyd Earl Crewe (1908-1978) joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service as a seaman on board the Diamond Shoals Lightship LV105 and was onboard the vessel during the great gale of 1933 when the ship was struck with 150 mph winds and swept five miles off course. In 1937, he transferred to the Chesapeake Lightship until 1942 when he was sent to the Smith Point Lighthouse. In 1939 when the Lighthouse Service was taken over by the Coast Guard he decided to stay on as a civilian employee rather than join the military. In 1943, he was promoted to head keeper at the Upper Cedar Point Lighthouse on the Potomac River in Maryland.
In 1947, Floyd Earl Crewe was transferred to the Windmill Point Lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay north of the entrance to the Rappahannock River near Kilamock, Maryland. He served until 1954 when he was appointed head lighthouse keeper at the Wolf Trap Lighthouse where he served as the last civilian keeper, retiring from there in 1968 after 38 years of service.
Floyd Earl Crewe’s daughter, Gloria, recalled that he mother never complained that her father was away so much. Having served through Great Depression, she was just grateful that he had a job.
Charles Linwood Sadler (1906-1981) began his lighthouse career in 1928 on board a lighthouse tender. In 1944, he was appointed as a 1st assistant civilian keeper at Cove Point Lighthouse at the entrance to the Patuxent River on the Chesapeake Bay near Lusby, Maryland. He and his wife Mabel lived there with their children until 1953 when he was appointed as the head keeper of the Chesapeake Bay’s Windmill Point Lighthouse. In 1954, he was transferred to the Tue Marshes Lighthouse where he served until his retirement.
Clarence Walter Salter (1877-1925) started his career with the United States Lighthouse Service in 1894 at the Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse, a screwpile structure that once stood in the water off Cape Charles, Virginia. In 1903, he was sent to York Spit Lighthouse at the approach to the York River from the Chesapeake Bay near Poquoson, Virginia. While stationed at York Spit Lighthouse, he married Fannie May Hudgins. In 1908, he was sent back to Old Plantation Flats where he served until 1912. He then went on to serve at Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse, Cape Charles Lighthouse, and Hog Island Lighthouse until 1922 when he was appointed keeper of the Turkey Point Lighthouse near the community of North East, Maryland. When he died in 1925 at the age of 48, his widow Fannie was left to raise their three children: Jessie Olga, Mabel, and Charles Bradley. Fannie Salter appealed to the government to allow her to stay on as the lighthouse keeper, a request that was approved.
Fannie Mae Salter (1882-1966) should have been the obvious choice to take over as the keeper of Turkey Point Lighthouse when her husband died in 1925, but the government was reluctant to appoint her, but she appealed her case and won. She went on to serve for 22 years as the keeper of Turkey Point Lighthouse. Because it was 14 miles over rough roads to the nearest store, Fannie Salter, like the keepers before her, had to be somewhat self-sufficient. She maintained a vegetable garden and kept animals at the station, including sheep, chickens, and even horses. Raising three children by herself, life was not easy at the lighthouse. She said, “It’s a 24-hours-a-day job, 365 days per year. Normally, I’m up at 7am and work ‘til midnight, but foggy weather sometimes has me going as much as four days without sleep.” That’s because the fog bell, which she described as a “mite old fashion” had to be wound every three hours to keep its striking mechanism operating. On cold nights the automatic mechanism would not work and she had to pull a rope every 15 seconds to strike the 1,200-pound bell, which would physically exhaust her, but she never failed at her duty.
When Fannie Mae Salter retired in 1947, she was the last civilian woman lighthouse keeper in the United States from the old United States Lighthouse Service as well as the United States Coast Guard.
John Filmore Hudgins (1856-1949) started his career in the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1895 at the 1868 Smith Point Lighthouse in Virginia. However, his stint there was short lived when the lighthouse was destroyed by ice. Over the ensuing 35 years, he served at Nansemond River Lighthouse, the Newport News Middle Ground Lighthouse, the York Spit Lighthouse, the Craney Island Lighthouse, and ended his career as the keeper of the Stingray Point Lighthouse near Deltaville, Virginia where he retired in 1923.
Charles Edward Respess (1862-1915) was the only keeper honored in the April 7th grave marker ceremony who lost his life in the line of duty. He started his career in 1890 as a crew member on the Cape Charles Lightship LV46, but by 1891 he became captain of the newly christened Cape Charles Lightship LV49 until he took his first lighthouse assignment in 1893. From 1893 to 1907, he served at the following lighthouses: Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse, Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse, Deep Water Shoals Lighthouse, Smith Point Lighthouse, and York Spit Lighthouse. In 1907, he became a keeper at Maryland’s Windmill Point Lighthouse. On the evening of March 5, 1915, he left the lighthouse to go to his home on the mainland. He never arrived. His body and capsized boat were found the next day. The 52-year-old keeper was buried at Gwynn’s Island Cemetery in Mathews County, Virginia.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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