Carl Delano Hill, born in Portland, Maine on November 16, 1886, had a long and distinguished career as a lighthouse keeper, serving in both the U.S. Lighthouse Service and later in the U.S. Coast Guard. Although Carl D. Hill served as an assistant keeper and as a head keeper at ten different lighthouses, his wife Elizabeth Abbott Remsen Hill actually lived at more lighthouses than he did.
Elizabeth was born on July 21, 1886 at Brant Point Lighthouse in Massachusetts where her father, Joseph G. Remsen, was the keeper. In her lifetime as the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, and the wife of a lighthouse keeper, she lived at a total of twelve different lighthouses.
In his younger years, Carl D. Hill started his career working at a drug store in Portland as well as doing some carpentry work. For some unknown medical reasons, a doctor told Carl that he should do only outdoor work, so he applied for a job with the U.S. Lighthouse Service and was hired.
Carl D. Hill met Elizabeth when they were both living at Sankaty Head Lighthouse on Cape Cod, Massachusetts - her as the daughter of head lighthouse keeper Joseph G. Remsen, and him as an assistant keeper, who arrived at Sankaty Head Lighthouse in 1912, after having previously served at Thacher Island Lighthouse from 1911 to 1912, and prior to that at the Gurnet (Plymouth) Lighthouse in Duxbury, Massachusetts where he had joined the Lighthouse Service in 1910.
Love blossomed quickly, and Carl Delano Hill and Elizabeth Remsen were married at Sankaty Lighthouse on August 5, 1913. Newspaper reports of the time stated that, for the wedding, the keeper’s house was “prettily decorated with white native flowers and the bride carried a bouquet of white.”
By 1915, the couple was transferred for a short stint at Boston Lighthouse in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, and in 1916 they were transferred to Tarpaulin Cove Lighthouse with a promotion to head lighthouse keeper, where they lived for four years until 1920.
For reasons unknown, in 1920 Carl D. Hill took a transfer and a demotion to become the assistant keeper at West Chop Lighthouse, where he lived until 1922 when he was promoted and transferred again to become a head keeper, this time at the Ipswich Range Lighthouses in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He served there for ten years until 1932 when he closed up the lighthouse when it was automated.
In 1971, when Elizabeth Hill was 85 years old, and shortly before her death, she recalled their life at the Ipswich Range Lighthouses. The family arrived at the lighthouse in 1922 via a barge. The seas were rough that day, and as they unloaded the family’s belongings, her sewing machine went overboard, never to be recovered. But after that rough start, life at Ipswich soon became as normal as can be expected at a remote lighthouse.
She said that her husband never did much fishing, but at Ipswich he would dig for clams, and when he did, they’d have a “good hot stew.” She went on to say, “It was a good life, a very good life at Ipswich. The children were young, and we lived out of doors as much as possible in the summer. My three daughters and son went to Ipswich schools and were taken to and from school by a bus. There were quite a few children living on the road to the lighthouse in those days. We were always busy, every day was full.”
Reportedly, while living at Ipswich Lighthouse, Carl Hill helped pack the insulated house, developed by Ipswich native Victor H. Czegka, for Admiral Richard Byrd’s famous expedition to the Antarctic.
Carl and Elizabeth’s son Mark recalled a humorous incident while attending the school in the first grade. It seems that the first grade teacher asked the students to come into school the next day with their father’s first name. Amazingly, most of the students did not know; apparently many of them thought that Dad or Father was the first name.
Provisions were no problem while the Hills lived at the Ipswich Range Lighthouses. “The Crane estate was our nearest neighbor,” Mrs. Hill recalled. “It was pretty lively while we lived on the beach. We used to get our milk from the Cranes. Severe cold and mountains of snow are nothing new to the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, as well as a lighthouse keeper’s wife. The winter my son was born, and he’s 47 now, there was one blizzard after another. It was so bad that the doctor advised that I go in town and stay. And it was just at that time that my girls had the whopping cough, the youngest one was particularly sick. I can tell you that I hated to leave them and live in that room in town until my son, Mark, was born. It was wonderful to get home again, even with the storms and the snow howling around the house.”
While at the Ipswich Lighthouse, Carl Hill laid two cement tracks from the end of the road to the house and a huge cement patio to the garage. This was a very long and difficult project, but it then allowed him to drive the car from the end of the road and into the garage. The family no longer had to carry the groceries through the sand.
At the Ipswich Light Station, the keeper’s house was several hundred feet from the light tower and was connected by a boardwalk. “During those winter storms my husband had to do a lot of shoveling to get back and forth to the light. But we always managed, and we always had plenty of provisions, so we didn’t worry about getting snowed in.”
There was no toilet at Ipswich Lighthouse; the station was served by an outhouse. However, the family did have a bath tub that sat in the kitchen. Water would be heated on the stove and all four children would take a bath at the same time. The tub was covered when not in use.
It was on the covered tub that son Mark got his tonsils out. To supplement his lighthouse keeping income, Carl Hill worked for Dr. Eugene Crockett, who owned a nearby apple orchid. Carl Hill would spray the trees, trim them, pick apples, or whatever he was asked to do. When Dr. Crockett was 80 years old, the Hills hired him to take out son Mark’s tonsils. The good old doctor missed a piece on the first attempt and the process had to be done a second time. Also in exchange for fresh milk for his family, keeper Hill would also milk the cows at the nearby Crane Estate.
In later years, Carl and Elizabeth Hill’s daughter Mary Stevens recalled that there were quite a few shipwrecks by the Ipswich Lighthouse. “Once four local fishermen drowned and their bodies washed up on the beach. We had no phone to notify anyone.” Her mother had to stay with the dead fishermen until someone could go to the mainland for help. “It must have been quite rough on her.”
One time at Ipswich Lighthouse there were a number of people camping out on the beach in tents and keeper Hill warned them that a lighting storm was approaching and that they should leave at once. Two of the couples did not heed his advice and they were struck by lightning. Three of them who were severely burned somehow made it to the lighthouse. With no telephone at the lighthouse, keeper Hill had to go to the nearby Crane Estate to use a phone to telephone for help. By the time he returned, all four of the people had died. After that incident, the government installed a telephone at the lighthouse.
Daughter Mary went on to recall that living at the lighthouse was “kind of a romantic life,” and she missed seeing and hearing the crashing of the waves, especially the winter storms.
When the government decided to automate Ipswich Lighthouse, it was with sadness that they had to move on. Mrs. Hill recalled, “We had many good friends.” With the closing and automation of Ipswich Lighthouse, there was apparently no other head keeper positions open, so Carl Hill was forced to accept the position as 2nd assistant lighthouse keeper at the well-known Highland Lighthouse, which is also known as Cape Cod Lighthouse, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
When they moved to Highland Lighthouse, they had to enlarge a window to get the family piano into the house. Son Mark picked up some lucrative money working as a caddie at the golf course that was located by Highland Lighthouse. He also hunted for golf balls that he sold back to the golfers.
Highland Lighthouse was popular with tourists who would sometimes be intrusive by peeking in their windows while the family was eating a meal. However, the lighthouse was open to the general public at assigned times. One time, keeper Hill gave a tour to Hollywood’s most famous couple of their time: Clarke Gable and Carole Lombard.
After two years at Highland Lighthouse, in 1934 he was again promoted and was sent to Eastern Point Lighthouse where he served as the head keeper from 1934 to 1945. When the Coast Guard took over the Lighthouse Service in 1939, Carl D. Hill joined the Coast Guard. While at Eastern Point Lighthouse, although he had a Coast Guard uniform hat, he would often be seen wearing his old U.S. Lighthouse Service hat with its lighthouse emblem. By this time, with the rank of CBM (Chief Bos’n Mate) and his many years of service, apparently none of his superiors ever reprimanded him for not wearing the correct uniform hat, or perhaps he just never wore it in front of them.
For many years, noted historian Edward Rowe Snow, the Flying Santa of the Lighthouses, would fly over New England lighthouses and drop Christmas presents to the lighthouse keepers. One year, the holiday drop did not land at the lighthouse and it was thought it must have landed in the water and drifted away. However, one day in late March, keeper Hill’s dog came back to the lighthouse with a package that the furry companion had found. Amazingly, many of the items in that package were still in usable condition.
Although Eastern Point Lighthouse was located in a picturesque location, and maintaining the light here with its enclosed walkway to the tower was fairly easy work, there was one part of the job that was very dangerous at this station. That was maintaining the beacon at the end of 2,250-foot breakwater known as the Gloucester Breakwater Lighthouse or the Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse. Waves often crashed over the breakwater, and getting back and forth, especially in the winter months over the breakwater when the rocks were slippery, was often dangerous duty.
Carl Hill’s son Mark recalled that, while living at Eastern Point Lighthouse, he was selling pond lilies door to door to make some extra money. At one of the homes, he heard lots of yelling going on inside and no one answered the door. During World War II, the FBI had reason to believe that someone in the Eastern Point Peninsula was a spy and was sending radio communications to German submarines that were operating off shore. To avoid too much suspicion, the FBI had keeper Hill drive the lighthouse jeep around the area with a device to pinpoint the location of the radio transmissions. The house was pinpointed and the spies were apprehended. It was the same house where Mark had tried unsuccessfully to sell his pond lilies years earlier.
Finally, toward the end of his career, in 1945 Carl Hill was transferred to the Hospital Point Lighthouse in Beverly, Massachusetts, a light station that was considered a prime assignment, especially for a man who had served for so long and so faithfully. While stationed here, Carl Hill was also in charge of the light in the steeple of the First Baptist Church of Beverly, which was the rear range light to Hospital Point Lighthouse.
Carl Delano Hill retired from lighthouse keeping in 1947 after serving for 37 years in the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. In the 34 years Carl and Elizabeth were married, they raised four children at the lighthouses: Mark, Ruth, Elizabeth and Mary. It had been a good life.
At the age of 75, Carl Delano Hill died on July 25, 1962 on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. He was buried in the Central Cemetery in Beverly, Massachusetts. His dedication to his country, lighthouses, and his family has now been kept alive through this story in the pages of Lighthouse Digest.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 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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