Lighthouses of Bygone Days


I’m still in the 4th of July frame of mind!  So, Happy Late Independence Day!

In 2007, our grown daughters and their families rented a house on Bolivar peninsula a short ferry ride from Texas’s Galveston IsBolivar Lighthouseland.  Not only did we have a wonderful time by discovering that the rustic island is as wild and free as Galveston is tame and settled; but,  I fell in love with one of the peninsula’s landmarks … the Bolivar Lighthouse.  Once vital to shipping it now stands forlorn and rusted.  Built in 1860 of brick and clad in iron, the old structure not only guided countless ships to safe harbor but has itself been a lifesaver during hurricanes.

Of course the writer in me took over.  Once I found out that for hundreds of years the lighthouse keepers lived most if not all of their lives either inside of the lighthouse or a dwelling or house (thus the name lighthouse) not far away, the idea for a historical romance came to me about a lighthouse keeper.  So far unwritten, I’ve got plenty of  ideas in my head and notes in a binder.

Before the era of automation, responsibility for operating and maintaining a light station was placed in the hands of a keeper, sometimes aided by one or more assistants.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, keepers were appointed by the Treasury Department or even the president himself in return for military service or political favor. Although the work was hard and the pay minimal, these appointments were coveted since they offered a steady income, free housing, and no specific background or training required. It may surprise you that many where women.

Now can you see a romance coming together?

Here are some interesting facts I found during my research.

Each lighthouse beacon has one or more identifying features.  To help mariners distinguish one beacon from another, maritime officialMinots Lighthouses assigned each light in a given region a distinct color or pattern of flashes.  Among the most famous lighthouse characteristics is that of the offshore Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse near Scituate, Massachusetts, which displays a single flash, followed by four quick flashes, then three more.  This one-four-three flashing sequence reminds some romantic observers of I-LOVE-YOU!  Great fodder for a historical romance writer’s mind, huh?

We’ve all heard of foghorns.  The distinctive sound that warn vessels about prominent headlands or navigational obstacles during fog or periods of low visibility is truly called a foghorn or a fog signal.

Have you ever heard of breakwater light?  I hadn’t until I began researching.  Often harbors are protected from high waves by a lengthy barrier of stone known as breakwaters.  Because they rise only a few feet above the surface, breakwaters are hard to see, especially at night, and may threaten vessels entering or existing the harbor.  Breakwater beacons are meant to make mariners aware of this hazard and allow them to safely navigate the harbor entrance.   For obvious reasons the light tower usually is placed near the end of the breakwater.

The last thing I’d like to share is about the Fresnel lenses.  Have you ever wondered if the concentrated light of the powerful beam that can be seen so far out into the ocean, gulf, or seas was a new invention?  Surprisingly, it isn’t.  Invented in 1822 by Augustin Fresnel, a noted French physicist, the light consist of individual hand-polished glass prisms arrayed in a bronze frame.  They now come in many sizes or “orders”.  A massive first-order lens may be more than six feet in diameter and twelve feet tall, while a diminutive sixth-order lens is only about a foot wide and not much larger than an ordinary gallon jug.

I love lighthouses, especially since they are part of our history,  but I’ve seen many restored ones that are breathtaking.  I’m glad to share with you one of my favorite lighthouses and there are many more I’ve personally visited that I hope to share their history with you in later blogs.

Please share with us your favorite lighthouse, if you have one.

Ferry GalvestonLive in the Sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air… Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Bolvar Boys

The Troubled Texan Good

To one lucky winner who leaves a comment, I will give away an eBook copy of my newest Kasota Springs contemporary romance The Troubled Texan.


Nuns on the Frontier

An early re-enactment of the 1869 journey from Galveston to San Antonio undertaken by three Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. The journey resulted in the formation of what is today the largest congregation of women religious in Texas.

When the sun rose on Sept. 9, 1900, the island city of Galveston, Texas, lay in ruins. What would come to be called The Great Storm, a hurricane of massive proportions, had roared ashore from the Gulf of Mexico overnight, sweeping “the Wall Street of the Southwest” from the face of the Earth.

Over the following weeks, rescuers pulled more than 6,000 bodies from the rubble, piled the remains on the beach, and burned them to prevent an outbreak of disease. Among the departed, discovered amid the wreckage of St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum, were the bodies of ninety children ages 2 to 13 and all ten Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. In a valiant, yet ultimately futile, attempt to save the children from floodwaters that rose to twenty feet above sea level, each sister bound six to eight orphans to her waist with a length of clothesline. The lines tangled in debris as the water destroyed the only home some of the children had ever known.

Sister Vincent Cottier and two of her young charges at the orphanage in Galveston. All three perished during The Great Storm of 1900.
Sister Vincent Cottier and two of her young charges at the orphanage in Galveston. All three perished during The Great Storm of 1900.

All that survived of the orphanage were the three oldest boys and an old French seafaring hymn, “Queen of the Waves.” To this day, every Sept. 8 the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word worldwide sing the hymn in honor of the sisters and orphans who died in what remains the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike U.S. soil.

Established in Galveston in 1866 by three Catholic sisters from France, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is a congregation of women religious. Not technically nuns because they take perpetual simple vows instead of perpetual solemn vows and work among secular society instead of living in seclusion behind cloistered walls, they nevertheless wear habits and bear the title Sister. Today the original congregation is based in Houston, but back then Galveston seemed an ideal spot for the women to build a convent, an orphanage, and a hospital. On January 7, 1867, they opened Nazareth Academy in Victoria, Texas. In 1883, the federal Bureau of Education praised the academy as one of six Texas schools providing “superior instruction of women.” By 1869, the sisters had founded a second congregation in San Antonio. From there, they expanded to other cities in Texas, including Amarillo, and even farther west, all the way to California. In 2014, the sisters operated missions in Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Kenya in addition to the United States. They continue to operate Nazareth Academy, but as a coeducational school serving children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Two postulants from the Congregation of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, ca. 1890.
Two postulants from the Congregation of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, ca. 1890.

Armed with faith instead of guns, the sisters did their part to civilize Texas’s notoriously wild frontier. They did not do so without significant hardship. Catholics often were not well-tolerated in 19th Century America, although in Galveston the sisters were admired and even loved for their industry and benevolence. That benevolence led to the deaths of two of the original three Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, who perished during Galveston’s yellow fever epidemic of 1867.

As a Galvestonian, the history of the island city and its diverse people fascinates me. I continue to hope for inspiration that will grow into a story set here, where the past overflows with tales of adventure dating back well before the pirate Jean Lafitte built the fortified mansion Maison Rouge on Galveston in 1815. In the meantime, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word provided the inspiration for the heroine in a quick read, The Second-Best Ranger in Texas, which is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and .



A washed-up Texas Ranger. A failed nun with a violent past. A love that will redeem them both.

Thanks so much for stopping by. As a token of my appreciation, I’ll give a copy of The Second-Best Ranger in Texas, in the winner’s choice of e-fomats, to one of today’s commenters.