Captain Lorin Vincent Thorndyke was the head keeper at Piedras Blancas Light Station for twenty-seven years from August 19, 1879 until August 22, 1906. Though not the first head keeper, he certainly had the longest tenure in that position. “The Captain”, as everyone called him, was born in West Camden, Maine on January 28, 1839. Before coming to Piedras Blancas, he was in the Merchant Marine for many years and claimed to have been around the world five times. He also served at several lighthouses along the California coast including Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Yerba Buena in San Francisco Bay, and, lastly, Point Hueneme, prior to being assigned to Point Piedras Blancas at the age of forty.
The Captain’s birth record shows that his name was originally Loring Vincent Thorndike. The name Loring derives from a wealthy New England family, many of whose members were lawyers. The Thorndikes (with an “I”) were a large and prominent family whose history in North America dates back almost to the first European colonists and in England to 1470. Following John Thorndike’s arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1632, generations of Thorndikes lived on the coast of Massachusetts north of Boston, especially in and around Beverly, and many Thorndikes live in this area today. Most of the early males in this family were mariners who traveled the world so it is no surprise that Captain Lorin V. Thorndyke claimed to have been around the world five times. It is not known when and why he changed the spelling of his first and last names.
At the time he came to Piedras Blancas, The Captain was single but he married twenty-seven year old Elizabeth Jarmon before the year was out. “Lizzy” was born in Wales, Wisconsin and her grandparents had come to America from Wales (in Great Britain) in 1841. Her older sister, Mary Jarmon had married Tom Evans who owned a ranch just north of the light station and, when “Lizzy” came to visit her sister, she met and married The Captain.
The Captain and Elizabeth had two sons, Lorin V. Thorndyke, Jr., commonly known as “Lo”, in 1881 and John Emory Thorndyke, also called “Em”, in 1882. Both boys attended the Washington School when they were at the lighthouse and the Polar Star School in the Alta district, which also served residents of San Carpoforo Creek, when they were at the Thorndyke property there.
Lizzy died in 1886 leaving The Captain with two young sons aged four and five.
Three years later the captain married Frank E. Clark in 1889 and she bore him a daughter, Frankie Ruth Thorndyke, in 1891. Frank was “a San Francisco woman” and she soon left the lighthouse to return there with her daughter. In 1897 the captain went to Wales, Wisconsin and married his third wife, Margaret Jarmon, a younger sister of Lizzy. This created the unusual situation in which Margaret was both aunt and stepmother to Lorin Jr. and Em.
Lorin, Jr. served at a lighthouse on San Francisco Bay while John Emory served as third assistant keeper at Piedras Blancas Light Station from 1903 to 1906. When Lorin, Jr. became ill, The Lighthouse Service gave him a year or two off to build up his health and he spent the time in Phoenix, Arizona working for his cousin.
When Lo returned in 1904, The Captain acquired the Frankl store in San Simeon which had been established by Leopold Frankl in 1873 and which was inherited by his nephew, Adolph Frankl, in 1896. Four years later the store was acquired by the American Exploration Company which was developing quicksilver mines in the area but, when the demand for quicksilver decreased, they sold the store to The Captain who put his son, Lorin, Jr., in charge of it. Since he was a local and had a university degree in business management, Lorin, Jr. soon made the store profitable again. He was also the postmaster at San Simeon from 1905 until 1914.
When the captain retired from the lighthouse service in 1906 at the age of 67, he and his third wife, Margaret, moved into a small cottage behind this store. Lorin, Jr. then acquired the equipment of a small abalone drying operation near the whaling station and soon had twenty Japanese working for him. About three tons of dried meat, which sold for $200 a ton, was shipped to San Francisco and then to the Orient each year. There was additional profit from abalone pearls but many of these pearls were sold directly by the Japanese without Thorndyke’s knowledge. After four years of operation, Lorin, Jr. was forced to abandon the abalone operation when his landlord, William Randolph Hearst, raised the rent. By 1910 the hotel was closed due to reduced steamer traffic and increasing rents and in 1914 the store was sold to Manuel Sebastian.
At the age of 27, Lorin V. Thorndyke Jr., the captain’s older son, married Catherine Maud Rogers, known as Maud, in 1908. Maud was born in 1891 in the San Capojo Mountains (today called the San Carpaforo Mountains) a few miles up the coast from the light station and she attended Holmes Elementary School as she lived about a mile north of that school. They had five children, Irwin Roger, Lorin Vincent, Alta Margaret, Gerald Elwin and Donald Guy.
After selling the store, Lorin Jr. took up dairying on a ranch in Green Valley owned by John Eubanks. The family then moved up Santa Rosa Creek Road to a ranch called Timbers above Soto’s ranch. Around 1935 they moved to Los Osos and then to the “round barn” (actually octagonal) ranch in San Luis Obispo in the 1940s. They then moved to a ranch on Cayucos Creek where they lived for eleven years. By 1965, Lorin Thorndyke, Jr. and Maud were living in Cayucos in a house previously owned by the Biaginnis and Cypriano Soto.
After the store was sold, The Captain and Margaret Thorndyke lived in several places including a house on Bridge Street in Cambria which they purchased from Sarah Guthrie in 1914. That house presently houses The Tea Cozy. The Captain died in 1917 but Margaret lived on Bridge Street until 1928.
The captain’s other son, John Emory Thorndyke (grandpa Em), married Clara Erma Rogers who was a sister to Maud Rogers, wife of Lorin V. Thorndyke, Jr. They had three children, Ione Elizabeth, Mervin Emory and Cyril. Clara Erma (known as Erma) did cooking and housekeeping at the Ferrari-Righetti Hotel next door to the Thorndyke store in San Simeon from 1906 until 1914. This hotel had been acquired by Lorin Jr. and Maud had taken over its supervision.
Some of the Thorndykes are buried at the Cambria District Cemetery at the end of Bridge Street. The main Thorndyke family plot is located in Row 19 and is enclosed by a small concrete curb which says “THORNDYKE” on one side. Within this plot are buried Captain Lorin V. Thorndyke and his wives Elizabeth and Margaret Jarmon Thorndyke. In the same plot are The Captain’s son, John Emory and his wife, Clara Erma. Also buried there is Cyril Thorndyke, youngest child of John Emory Thorndyke and Clara Erma Rogers.