Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2015

Sky Pilot’s 1927 Visit to Avery Rock Lighthouse

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The cover of The Message for 1927 where Rev. W. ...

Preface: From 1900 to 1928 the Rev. W. H. Law, who was known as the “Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes,” visited with and delivered a variety of gifts to the lighthouse keepers’ families and the life-saving crews on the Great Lakes. During those travels he recorded all of his memories and made them into stories that he published in various forms, including the booklet Deeds of Valor of the Coast Guard and the Lighthouse Men.

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Undated vintage photo of Avery Rock Lighthouse in ...

In the 1920s Connie Small who lived at Maine’s Avery Rock Lighthouse with her husband Elson, who was the lighthouse keeper, received two of Rev. Law’s publications in the Travelling Library that was sent by the government from lighthouse to lighthouse. Connie was so impressed with Rev. Law’s writings that she wrote to him, and for many years they corresponded.

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Connie Small is shown here when she first arrived ...

Toward the end of his career, Rev. Law decided to expand the scope of his travels and eventually made his way to Maine to meet Connie Small, his long-time pen pal. This is his account of that visit as he wrote in his publication The Message for 1927 as was transcribed by his great-great-grandson, John Kotzian, who chronicled Rev. Law’s life in the book Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes.

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Vintage post image of Avery Rock Lighthouse off ...

After a long journey across country from Quebec, fully 500 miles, I reached Bucks Harbor, where the light keeper and his interesting wife from Avery Rock Light Station came over in a good power boat to meet me, and here I am now, making my headquarters at the lighthouse.

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Rev. W. H. Law, who was known as the Sky Pilot, ...

What a wonderful reception they gave me. This is what they had to say in a letter that reached me while in Buffalo: “Your letter received and such lovely news. We are only hoping it is the will of our Heavenly Father to have you come and see us. Of course we shall pray for the very finest weather and shall look forward to your visit with us with great pleasure. You shall have a good rest and then we will gladly take you to several lighthouses and Coast Guard Stations, and make it very pleasant for you.”

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Connie Small is shown here with her husband Elson ...

Well, they more than did. Never in all my life have I found more delightful people. They have no children, their only pets are two gulls and a cat and they are often fighting over their meals. Mr. and Mrs. Small are very fond of music, and have several stringed instruments and an excellent radio. They play together very nicely and we have delightful entertainment.

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Although this photo is somewhat hazy, it shows ...

Mr. Small’s grand-daddy, at Bucks Harbor, where I stayed until they came for me, is a retired sea captain and from having been all over the world nearly, is most interesting. When this “ancient mariner” from the unsalted seas of the north blew in and landed in the beautiful borne of the storm-tossed, weather-beaten salt of the seven seas of the south, believe me there was something doing in the way of spinning sailor yarns.

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While living on Avery Rock, with no place to go ...

The bedrooms of Captain Small’s house were not only supplied with large, handsome, red cedar chests to protect clothes from moths, but every room had a large feather bed. When I crawled, or rather hopped into mine, I sank so far down in the soft fluffy feathers of wild geese and edar duck, that you might have thrown a plank across the bed without disturbing me when I fell asleep. In this part of the Bay of Fundy, not far from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the winters are quite severe, and such beds are very comfortable. In mid-summer they are discarded.

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To learn more about Connie and Elson Small and ...

As for Avery Rock Lighthouse, well, I may truly say, it may be called the “saint’s rest,” at least the place where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest, for Mrs. Small is a wonderful Christian character, as is also her husband whom she calls Elon, not so much by profession as by his good works and kindly deeds.

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The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, written by Connie ...

With all manner of ocean fish, such as sea trout, mackerel, fresh cod, halibut and no end to lobsters (and this place is noted for its fine lobsters), we lived high. They get them in box-like traps in about 50 feet of water. They are induced to go in crawling as they do in the bottom of the sea for food, and when in they can’t find their way out. These traps are four feet long and two feet wide, built in a half circle, with lath, and with a little opening at each end where they can crawl in for food, the fish head for bait, but can’t find their way out. The trap is anchored at the bottom with a weight, a piece of painted wood floats on top as a buoy.

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To learn more about Rev. W. H. Law, you can order ...

On the way from Bucks Harbor to Avery Rock we passed a great number of these traps. A man in a boat was hauling one up. Mr. Small pulled up near him so I could see how the lobsters were taken. Mr. Small wanted to buy a few but the fisherman, a retired sea captain, said “nothing doing, I will be glad to give you a few, that you people may have a good feed,” so Mrs. Small prepared three small ones for supper. My, but they were fine, enough to make one’s hair curl.

Avery Rock is so small it can’t be found on a map. Not a tree or blade of grass on it. Between here and the mainland there are many wild, rocky islands, and bold rocky shores, in some places several hundred feet high. When the wind is off land it is quite safe to go to Bucks Harbor, but when the wind is east or south, there is a sweep of open sea for thousands of miles-even from Cuba and Porto Rico, and sometimes for three weeks late in the Fall they cannot go ashore.

Mr. and Mrs. Small are as brave as lions having come from heroic stock, for on both sides their fathers were life savers and lighthouse people. This important lighthouse is built on the solid dark rock and to keep it from washing off is built up with brick from a cellar seven feet deep blasted out of the rock, a bunch of rocks about 200 feet long and 100 feet wide, and about 20 feet above high tide water. The wonderful and mysterious tide 18 feet high, slowly goes out every afternoon at three o’clock and by ten P. M. the shore-line of water is 18 feet lower and boats that are not anchored out a long way from shore are left high and dry on the shore, both large and small.

Here at the lighthouse they have a long, sloping tramway or slip, and with a winch they soon wind up the rope that hauls up the small boat with which they have anchored out the larger power boat, in which we have taken in several Light Stations and a Coast Guard Station. They tell me about storms that have beat about this lighthouse that almost make me shiver. I have noticed that on the south and east side of the sloping rock there is a very strong timber storm break, ten feet high, made of four-inch cypress plank fastened to 8x8 square posts about six feet apart, every one of which is fastened to the rock with heavy iron bolts. Before this strong protection was placed there, great seas during a storm beat up over the rock and smashed in a window. Even now when there is a big storm on, the tops of waves carried by a fierce wind, will beat up on the roof of the lighthouse, and in cold weather will prevent the light from being seen from afar by covering the round tower of heavy glass that protects the lens with an inch or two of frozen spray. This storm shield is braced up by 8x8 timbers, placed in a slanting position and fastened to the rock by heavy iron bolts that enter the rock through drilled boles about 20 inches deep. These braces, about eight feet long, fastened to the posts about 6 feet apart, resist a terrific storm.

Some years ago, before they had this protection, in a long-drawn-out, late fall, storm waves swept up over the rock and fell with mighty force on the roof of the lighthouse, two stories high, with the light tower above, and swept away a brick chimney, which in falling smashed a hole in the roof, letting a quantity of water through on the floor which had to be gotten rid of by the keeper boring auger holes through the floor and letting it through to the cellar below.

During the winter of 1926, during a bad storm, the light keeper and his wife were listening to the radio and they heard a church service in Brooklyn, New York. Dr. Cadman, the famous preacher, was speaking. As Mrs. Small puts it: “We could bear beautiful music and sweet singing as if from a celestial choir and we could hear Dr. Cadman, that wonderful man of God preaching an eloquent sermon; looking out of the window we could see the work of God manifested in the mighty deep, while over our heads we could hear the pitter patter of water on the roof from the tops of great billows breaking in a white smother all over the rocks.”

Well, here I am enjoying the company of these brave, delightful people, this summer evening. Today Mr. Small and I made a trip of over 20 miles calling on fishermen, lifting their lobster traps, and lighthouse and Coast Guard people.

I am beginning to feel like John the Revelator on the Isle of Patmos. Here we need not a revelation from above the blue, but thanks to the triumphs of science in the radio, we can enjoy several revelations every evening, and I am having a marvelous adventure in social friendship with a brave and interesting people, many of whom lead the simple life in the great outdoors with God, in the desert waste of the great water world.

There are very few poor people along this shore, what with the great quantity of pulpwood found on many of the islands and herds of sheep on some others, and profitable lobster and dam fishing, there is no excuse for being out of profitable employment. On one island I observed a flock of nearly one hundred sheep. There was no occasion for herding them up for the winter, as they really did better than those on the mainland that were housed and fed during the long cold winter.

The sheep on the islands found shelter among high towering rocks with a suggestion of small caverns, faced by thickets of red cedar, balsam and spruce. When the snow is deep and they could procure no grass, they do remarkably well in browsing among small birch and other plants, such as ground hemlock, as deer do. When they require any change they wander along the shore when the tide is out, feeding on kelp, a vegetable product left along the shore by the retreating tide.

Like the inhabitants of Nova Scotia, the men are larger than the men in the West. This brave industrious people claim to be the descendants of the “Arcadians,” who were driven from their homes in what is now Nova Scotia, in 1755, by the British and Colonial troops, when at war with France.

In March of 1926, one day there came floating about Avery Rock a great number of cakes of ice; on one big cake of ice there were twelve seal and on several other cakes there was a seal. One little fellow as frisky and playful as a kitten, entertained many of them by little friendly stunts-sliding off one cake and crawling up on another, enjoying their company for a time, making himself understood by perhaps a sort of telepathy, a queer barking sound. Then big black ducks in great numbers from the far north made themselves at home among the seals, Mr. Small, who has several good guns could have easily shot one or more seals, but his wife pleaded with him not to do it, as she regarded them as pets and could not think of having one killed.

One winter they had an unusual pet in the way of a big whale. Can you imagine such a thing? A whale about 60 feet long spent a winter among the islands on this part of the coast of Maine. He could often be seen from Avery Lighthouse as he swam about with his black back, often visible as he blew off hot air and water-a jet of steam about ten feet high, with a noise quite similar to the escaping steam of an old fashioned boiler. The whale had found this section of the Bay of Fundy good feeding ground because of the great quantity of herring, and so remained nearly all winter as a big untamed pet.

It is difficult for me to comprehend that where I am now - Avery Rock Lighthouse, that I am 600 feet lower than when I was up at Stannard Rock Lighthouse, almost in the middle of Lake Superior.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2015 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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