Lighthouse Keepers

Initially, Piedras Blancas Light Station employed a head keeper (also called a principal keeper or simply a keeper) as well as a first and second assistant. Following the installation of the fog signal in 1906, a third assistant joined the complement.

Stephen Morse was the first head keeper at Piedras Blancas Light Station. He began his tenure on December 8 ,1874 even though the station did not officially come on line until February 15, 1875. He was born in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, on May 19, 1839. His father, Stephen Morse, and his mother, Sarah Morse, were born there, too. Stephen was the fifth of twelve children born to this couple although he was the oldest of three sons.

According to the 1860 census, when Stephen was 21 years old, he was still living with his parents and his occupation was listed as “mariner”. Ten years later, in the 1870 census, his occupation is listed as “surveyor” and he is shown as married to Cora Morse, age 28, and living in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

According to the Lighthouse Service pay records, Morse resigned due to hardship, receiving his last salary on August 19, 1879, the same day L. V. Thorndyke started. However, he died on July 15, 1879 in San Francisco.

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. There is an entire article about him here.

Charles Kaneen became head keeper at Piedras Blancas Light Station on March 1, 1907, a few months after the retirement of L. V. Thorndyke. Prior to that he had been first assistant keeper beginning on April 28, 1906.

Charles was born in Nevada in 1867. His father, John S. Kaneen, was born in New York and his mother, Julia, was born in Pennsylvania. By 1880 the family was living in Virginia City, Nevada. Kaneen married a lady named Margaret who was also born in Nevada in 1872.

He left Piedras Blancas Light Station on May 15, 1911 to become head keeper at Carquinez Strait Light in Vallejo, California, which was built at that time to replace the Mare Island Light Station.

Andrew Czarnecke became the head keeper at Piedras Blancas Light Station on December 15, 1911, a few months after Charles Kaneen transferred to Carquinez Strait Light. He had been employed at the station as an assistant keeper as far back as 1908 and before that he was in the U. S. Navy, rising to the rank of Chief Quartermaster.

Although he was born in Massachusetts in 1867, both of his parents were born in Poland. His wife, Helene, was born in Prussia in 1865 and both of her parents were born in Poland, too. Czarnecke’s tenure at Piedras Blancas ended on February 11, 1934 with his death. Both Andrew and Helene are buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery.

Following Czarneke’s death, Norman L. Francis was transferred from Los Angeles Harbor Light to Piedras Blancas and he was appointed head keeper. He had two children, Lenore and Norman Francis, Jr. The latter was mainly responsible for the restoration of the Fresnel lens and its subsequent display in Cambria’s east village.

In 1939 jurisdiction of Piedras Blancas Light Station and all other light stations in America was transferred from the Lighthouse Service (Bureau of Lighthouses) within the Department of Commerce to the U. S. Coast Guard which, at that time, was under the Treasury Department. At this point, Norman Francis joined the Coast Guard as a Bosun’s Mate First Class and remained in charge of Piedras Blancas until 1947. After 1939, instead of a head keeper, the light station was supervised by a string of Bosun’s Mates:

December, 1947 – January, 1948 — W. J. McFaddin
January, 1948 – October, 1951 — Bert B. Breedlove
October, 1951 – March, 1953 — Donald Leigh
March, 1953 – November, 1953 — Roy L. Tovani
November, 1953 – April, 1955 — William E. Nielen
April, 1955 – September, 1958 — Walter Croft
July, 1958 – November, 1958 — Robert A. Reedy
November, 1958 – July, 1959 — Robert L. Buettner
July, 1959 – February, 1960 — William B. McGovern
February, 1960 – July, 1961 — Milas Miller
July, 1961 – January, 1962 — Clifford M. Smith
January, 1962 – May, 1963 — Theodore Kalis Jr.
May, 1963 – July 1966 — Arleigh D. Garrison
July, 1966 – April, 1969 — R.H. Merrill
April, 1969 – May, 1969 — Scott W. Fisher
May, 1969 – January, 1971 — Barry W. Bernstein

In 1971 Piedras Blancas Light Station was automated and no personnel were stationed at the site.

6 Responses to “Lighthouse Keepers”

  1. B&J says:

    Sandy:

    We do not have your father’s name in any of the records we have uncovered. However, we have not been doing research on the light station for nearly three years and it’s quite possible that new names of keepers have been uncovered during that period. We suggest you contact Carole Adams who can either answer your question or connect you with someone who can.

    We sent you her email.

    B&J

  2. Sandy says:

    Hi. My father was stationed at Piedras Blancas lighthouse in the 1950’s. I believe he was there from 1955 to ? My oldest sister was born while my parents lived there. I know he spoke to someone from there and I thought that his name was on a list? He has since passed away. I received a letter for him requesting information about his time at the lighthouse right after he passed. Anyway, his name is Hugh Carroll Johnson. I wanted to know if his name is listed as being associated with Piedras Blancas? If not, how can I make that happen? He and my mother had great memories there at the light house. They were newlyweds 🙂

  3. B&J says:

    Sorry, Christy, that’s all we know and all we are likely to ever know about him.

    B&J

  4. Christy says:

    Hello,
    Has any more information been obtained on R. H. Merrill?
    Thank you
    Christy Treichelt

  5. B&J says:

    Christy;

    We know very little about Merrill. The first time his name appears in the log books is July 26, 1966 and the last time is April 29, 1969. He always signed his name as “R. H. Merrill, BM1”, that is, bos’n mate first class. He was the “Officer in Charge” at Piedras Blancas Light Station during this time.

    B & J

  6. Christy Treichelt says:

    I’m looking for R.H. Merrill, has anyone found him or just what I know that he was the lighthouse keeper in the mid 60’s??

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