KEEPERS AT ROCKLAND HISTORY
The period of lighthouse keepers at Rockland Breakwater began in 1888 with a part time keeper that tended the beacon and ended when the last Coast Guard personnel left the lighthouse in 1965. The first keepers were members of the civilian U. S. Lighthouse Service, founded in 1789 and one of the oldest Federal Government organizations. In 1939, the U. S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility for all lighthouses and the U. S. Lighthouse Service was dissolved. At that time, lighthouse keepers either remained as civilian Coast Guard employees or became military personnel. All new keepers were military personnel and by the mid 1960’s all civilian keepers had resigned or retired.
From 1888 until 1902, one part time keeper was assigned to tend the beacon at the outer end of the breakwater as it was under construction. When the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse was completed in 1902, a keeper and an assistant keeper were assigned to man the light and fog signal. The assistant keeper was required due to the additional equipment associated with the fog signal. The keeper’s families lived ashore because the small four-room dwelling was too small to accommodate two families. The keepers received a modest housing allowance for their family in addition to their annual salary.
After July 1, 1939, when U. S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility for lighthouses, the keepers at Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse remained civilians until the incumbent keeper transferred to military status in June 1942. Later in 1942, additional Coast Guard military personnel were assigned to the lighthouse for lookout and security duty. They remained until mid 1944. By then the last civilian assistant keeper had been transferred. By the end of WW II, the compliment at the lighthouse consisted of the military Officer-in-Charge, as the keeper was now known, and two additional military “assistant keepers”.
In the post WW II Coast Guard period, the rotation of the Officer-in-Charge and especially the “assistant keepers” was more rapid than under the civilian Lighthouse Service and the “keeper” list is quite long and still not complete. Also, after WW II, the Coast Guard began a program to automate lighthouses and remove the keepers so by early 1965 the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse keepers were gone.
In 1998, the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse was conveyer to the City of Rockland and in 1999; The Friends of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse was formed as a non-profit organization to take up the duties of the new “keepers”. The Coast Guard however, still operates the light and fog signal as an active aid to navigation. Today “The Friends” are raising funds and working to restore the lighthouse, to open it to visitors and to interpret it as a historic site.