HERBERT BAMBER: The Extraordinary Engineer of Highland, Michigan By John M. Havel
My sincere appreciation goes to Diane Needham and the Highland Township Historical Society (HTHS) of Oakland County, Michigan, for generously sharing the journals of Herbert Bamber. In 2005, the HTHS acquired 11 of Bamber’s journals from a local collector. Two HTHS members, Dick Bohl and Roscoe Smith, transcribed the handwritten journals, which then were published in the society’s newsletter from 2007-2010. As their society is quite small, few people outside the Highland community were aware that these documents existed. The journals have been invaluable in bringing the faintly outlined figure of Herbert Bamber into clearer focus.
Special thanks also goes to Elizabeth (Betty) Buell Baldwin of Garrett Park, Maryland (whose grandmother was Herbert's sister, Mary Elizabeth Bamber Buell)for entrusting numerous original photographs of Herbert and his family to me for scanning and publication—finally putting a face to his name.
PART II: FOLLOWING THE LIGHT
Part I-Herbert Bamber: The Making of an Engineer was published in the Summer 2012 issue of the OBLHS Lighthouse News and recounted Herbert Bamber's upbringing in Highland Township, Michigan, his education and graduation from the Agricultural College of Michigan (now Michigan State University) in Lansing, and his first professional job as a surveyor in Utah. Part I concluded with Herbert in New Cumberland, West Virginia, working as an inspector at the dam on Blacks Island on the Ohio River for Lieut. Col. William E. Merrill of the Army Corps of Engineers.
In 1885, just one month after his arrival in New Cumberland, Herbert wrote: “Received a letter from Major Smith June 24th offering me an appointment as superintendent of construction on a Florida lighthouse. With Col. Merrill’s permission, I accepted the appointment as it gave me a longer engagement than the one I have here with the same monthly salary averaging $150 per month. Expect to leave here early in August.”
A LIGHTHOUSE AT MOSQUITO INLET
The letter Herbert received a few weeks before his 27th birthday would begin his association with lighthouses—an association that would define the rest of his career. The letter offered him an appointment as Superintendent of Construction of the Mosquito Inlet Light Station on the eastern coast of Florida, midway between the Cape Canaveral Light to the south and the St. Augustine Light to the north. In 1835, a 45-foot brick lighthouse stood on the south side of the inlet, but through a series of misfortunes the light was never lit, and violent storms caused the tower to topple into the sea in early 1836, and so a new lighthouse at the inlet was critically needed.
The offer to Herbert came about as the result of a tragic accident in June 1884 suffered by General Orville Babcock, Chief Engineer for the 5th and 6th Light-House Districts. Babcock had been in charge of the project at Mosquito Inlet since January 1883. Ellen Henry, current curator at the Light Station, wrote in the October 2007 Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station Quarterly Journal that on his first survey trip to the area early in 1883, Babcock “…discovered that the [lighthouse tender] Pharos was too large to enter Mosquito Inlet. Babcock determined that attempting to go ashore in small boats from the Pharos would be too dangerous, so he decided to take interior waterways and approach Mosquito Inlet from the Halifax River.” It took Babcock two days to reach the inlet by taking this inland route, but it was a far safer way to go, considering the dangers of the inlet's shifting sands, shallow water, and dangerous currents.
For the next year and a half Babcock's work consisted of surveying for an appropriate site for the new light. Once he determined an optimal location, he proceeded to arrange the purchase of the necessary ten acres from the Pacetti family, who later used the sale money to open a boarding house. Babcock conducted tests of the sand and soil, oversaw the design of the lighthouse, arranged for the transport of materials and supplies, and hired a small work crew to begin construction of workmen’s quarters and other temporary buildings. He worked tirelessly overseeing the construction during the spring of 1884. The 6th District's April and May reports indicate that the engine and boiler for hoisting materials had arrived, the tramway from the river shore to the tower site had been completed, and additional supplies had arrived.
On June 2, 1884, Babcock arrived onboard the Pharos which sat at anchor in the open sea. Ignoring his own earlier advice, Babcock and a small party attempted to come ashore in a passing whaleboat. Although the surf was not unusually rough that day, the breakers were still quite large, and as they reached the first breaker, the steering oar snapped, the boat swung broadside to the waves, and the next breaker capsized the vessel. At first the men valiantly hung onto the boat, but they were soon washed away. Babcock and three others drowned. Only one of Babcock's party survived, a B.B. Smith of the 6th Light-House District.
Nevertheless, construction of the tower's foundation began a few days after Babcock's untimely death and, by the end of 1884, the foundation had been completed and the tower had risen to a height of about four feet.
At that point, appropriations had run out, and construction at the light station ceased. Congress made a new appropriation early in 1885, but as malarial fever ran rampant in the mosquito-infested waters, work was delayed until after the hot “sickly” season had passed. Within weeks of Babcock's death in June 1884, Major Jared A. Smith, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, received orders to take charge of the 5th and 6th Light-House Districts. Smith had been Herbert's supervisor in Indianapolis and, appreciating Herbert's engineering aptitude, wrote to him in July 1885 offering him the appointment in Florida.
On August 1, 1885, Herbert completed his duties at the dam on Blacks Island and, two days later, on August 3rd, reported to Smith’s office in Baltimore.
Three months later, in October 1885, Herbert arrived with Major Smith and two others in Florida. One of the men in their party was B.B. Smith, a survivor from Babcock’s drowning incident.
“Ponce Park, Florida: Major [Jared A.] Smith, Mr. B.[B.] Smith, Asst. Engineer 6th, Mr. Wilder and myself arrived here October 30th. The Major and Mr. B.B. Smith left us on November 1st….We immediately made the acquaintance of Mrs. Pacetti, who entertains tourists and got some dinner of which we were somewhat in need, having been some time on the steamer whose accommodations were not palatial.”
From this point on in his journal, Herbert’s notes are sporadic. Late in 1885 he wrote that “[s]ince November 2nd have been working from 3 to 8 men grubbing, receiving brick, making shed, etc.” On December 27th, he notes: “Have not begun bricklaying yet. Are waiting for the Tracy Brown to bring a cargo of building sand from the Savannah River.” We learn from the journals that although his small work crew busied themselves with various projects at the site, work on the tower did not resume until January 1886, remaining just four feet high since the end of 1884.
However, a different source informs us that Herbert was not idle during this time. The 1887 Annual Report of the U.S. Light-House Board contained two appendices written by Herbert. The first was a “Report upon the Test Made of the Cements Used in the Construction of the Mosquito Inlet Light-House, Florida,” which, according to volume 15 of The American Engineer, he presented at a meeting of the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia on April 7, 1888. The second piece, more relevant to the story, was a “Report upon the Working Platform Used in the Construction of the Mosquito Inlet Light-Tower, Florida.” This innovation was likely designed and developed by Herbert during the extended lull in construction, as photographs show his working platform in use as the work progressed.
The first page of this appendix opens with:
Highland, Mich., October 15, 1887.
Colonel: I have the honor, in response to your request through Captain Mallery, to inclose a brief description of the outside working platform used in the construction of the tower at Mosquito Inlet, with a description of the process of raising, etc.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Superintendent of Construction Mosquito Inlet Light-Station.
Col. James F. Gregory,
Engineer Secretary, Light-House Washington, D. C.
Herbert's description of this new scaffolding system is just a page and a half long, and includes a fold-out drawing of the platform in use, with details and notes.
In Herbert's design, individual bricks were left out of the exterior tower wall every ten feet vertically and horizontally so that support brackets for the platform could be set into these holes. Once the tower was completed the platform was lowered level by level and the gaps filled with bricks. According to the National Historic Landmark Study (Eshelman, 1997) Herbert’s invention increased the efficiency and ease of constructing masonry towers. The study goes on to say that this new technique, first used at Mosquito Inlet, was so successful that the U.S. Light-House Establishment adopted Herbert's method as standard practice for future brick masonry tower construction.
One year later, in 1886, Herbert wrote of tragedy and illness: “November 28th, Ponce Park: Have been alone in the office since the latter part of September. Mr. Smith, foreman, was drowned near Port Orange in February. Mr. Strachan was sent to take his place early in May. During July and August Mr. Wilder and myself were troubled with a dysentery and Mr. Wilder was obliged to go north. I was about, with the exception of about two weeks in July when first attacked.”
His entry continues, telling of the progress made since work resumed early in 1886. “Work on the tower was begun last January and continued until the 8th of September when the supply of brick suitable for the tower being exhausted, work was suspended and begun on the foundations of the dwellings. Work was continued with a small force until November 17th when more brick, having arrived, work upon the tower was resumed.”
Progress reports to the Light-House Board reveal that by the end of the year “470,000 bricks had been used and the tower stood at 51 feet.” In March 1887, Congress authorized an additional $20,000, the oil house was completed, and the three keeper's dwellings and their outbuildings were ready for plastering. The tower's first-order Fresnel lens was installed late in 1887.
In his journal, Herbert makes a reference to a separate “station journal” that was kept, but it has yet to be discovered. Perhaps Herbert recorded more details of daily activities at the construction site in this station journal, and neglected his personal journal as a result.
In the last weeks of 1886, Herbert wrote: “December 5th, Ponce Park: Pleasant weather the past week. Work on the tower going forward satisfactorily. Fifteen in the party besides myself—4 bricklayers. Lumber and other material for dwellings to be delivered January 15th, after which date it will have to be freighted to the station.”
This is the last entry regarding construction at Mosquito Inlet in Herbert’s journals. By the time he wrote again, a full year had passed and construction at the light station had been completed.
“December 31st : Was not able to leave the M.I.L.S. Ponce Park, Florida until the first Sunday in October [this was October 6]. Left Walter Crook in charge and proceeded to Baltimore... “ Having completed his assignment, Herbert left Mosquito Inlet and began the trip north, stopping in St. Augustine and Jacksonville. Upon arriving in Baltimore he wrote: “...completed my report, etc., so that I left Baltimore for a visit home on the second Sunday of October.”
In his last journal entry we learn of Herbert’s next assignment, the position he will remain in until he retires. “Having been transferred to or given the appointment of Superintendent of Construction in the 4th Light-House District, I reported at the office [in Philadelphia] November 1st. Was at home again Thanksgiving week to be present at the marriage of Mary on November 23rd.” On that date, his sister, Mary Elizabeth, was married to Leslie Albert Buell, a local farmer. Soon after their marriage, Mary and Leslie moved to Kansas where their only child, Herbert Joseph Buell, named after Mary’s dear brother, was born.
On November 1, 1887, the same day Herbert reported to his new position in Philadelphia, Principal Keeper William Rowlinski climbed the tower of the Mosquito Inlet Light Station and lighted the lamp for the first time.
That light station, renamed Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in 1927, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. After decades of restoration by the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association, the lighthouse stands today as one of the best preserved, most complete Light Stations in the nation, and a private aid to navigation that after 120 years still guides maritime traffic along the Florida coast.
The eleven journals of Herbert Bamber acquired by the Highland Township Historical Society (HTHS) end here in December of 1887 with Bamber’s new assignment in Philadelphia and just a brief note on the passing of his maternal grandfather, Noah Pomeroy Morse.
WORKING FOR THE LIGHT-HOUSE ESTABLISHMENT
Records regarding Herbert’s activities serving the 4th Light-House District over the next few years are sketchy, but provide some information to help paint a picture of his work during this period. Collections of Herbert’s papers at both the Detroit Public Library and Michigan State University may provide more details, but examination of these records was not possible before the publication of this article.
In 1852 the U.S. Light-House Board divided the country into twelve districts as part of their modernization and restructuring of the administration of lighthouses. The 4th District, where Herbert would serve, was defined as follows: “This district extends from a point on the coast of New Jersey opposite Shrewsberry Rocks but does not include the rocks to and includes Metomkin Inlet, Virginia. It embraces all aids to navigation on the seacoast of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, and the tidal waters tributary to the sea between the rocks and the inlet.”
At the time Herbert began his service, the Annual Report for the U.S. Light-House Board listed the following navigational aids for the 4th district: 49 light-houses and lighted beacons including: 5 first-order lights, 3 third-order lights, 12 fourth-order lights, 9 fifth order lights, 3 sixth-order lights; 1 lens-lantern, 8 range-lenses, 8 reflectors, 3 light-ships in position, 2 day or unlighted beacons, and 179 buoys and fog signals.
Herbert began his service with the Light-House Establishment in November of 1887. The Official Register of the U.S., Containing a List of the Officers and Employés in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service continues to list him in this position until at least 1892, and in both census records and passport applications through 1912, he is listed as a “civil engineer” for the U.S. government residing in Philadelphia. As noted in Part I of this article, Herbert’s various titles—Superintendent of Construction, Assistant Engineer, and surveyor, all fall under the discipline of civil engineering. Without journals or other personal accounts, one of the few other resources from which to discover Herbert’s activities in these years is the National Archives.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C., contains a collection of records designated “Correspondence of the Light-House Board, 1776-1900,” under Record Group 26, the main collection for holdings of the U.S. Coast Guard through the years. These records were collected into bound volumes when the Archives was established in 1935 from records stored by a variety of agencies. Some were found in basements and attics, many were subjected to fires and flooding over the years, and many therefore are damaged, fragile, or incomplete. According to Susan Abbott, archivist for NARA, “In many cases page numbers located on the outside corner of the page were burned off, and some of the pages are so brittle that they crumble when touched. When records can be located, they can be pulled for researchers as long as they are not too damaged.” Therefore, it is important to remember that these records can contain many gaps and those that can be accessed may be only a small representation of the original correspondence of the Board. The Archives also has created “reference slips” for every document acquired, forming an index for the entire collection. These are handwritten or typewritten slips that contain the name, subject, and date of the original document, as well as a one sentence description of its subject. The slips also include the number of the bound volume, or “letterbook,” and a page number where the original correspondence can be found—if it still exists and is accessible.
In a recent search, 43 reference slips associated with Herbert Bamber were located, representing 43 different letters sent by, or pertaining to, Herbert and his activities between 1885 and 1895. Although this division of the Archives contains records through 1900, no records later than March 1895 were found for Herbert. Additionally, six letters for which slips had not been found were discovered.
Looking first at Herbert's activities at the Light-House Establishment until 1892, eleven references dated from October 7, 1887 to June 14, 1889, were found. Of these, only two complete letters could be retrieved—for the others we have only the information found on the reference slips. The first two of these slips are simple requests for reimbursement for Herbert's travel expenses while working for the 4th District.
The first complete letter that could be retrieved is dated October 7, 1887 and is written by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, under which the U.S. Light-House Board served at this time. “As requested in your letter of the 3rd instant you are hereby authorized to transfer and employ Herbert Bamber as Superintendent of Construction in the Fourth Light-house District, with compensation at the rate of one hundred and fifty dollars per month from date of entering on duty, vice E.A. Gieseler, resigned. Respectfully yours, C.S. Fairchild, Secretary”
The next complete letter was written by Herbert on December 4, 1888, asking for reimbursement for travel. The letter states, “I have the honor to transmit herewith receipted vouchers for service during the month of November and also vouchers for travelling expenses ($45.00 & $92.75) , Very respectfully your obe't servant, H. Bamber Inspector of Metal-Work, D.I.L.H.” This was the only instance found where Herbert signs a letter with a title other than “Superintendent of Construction,” or “Assistant Engineer.” The initials “D.I.L.H.” possibly stand for “Destruction Island Light House” in Washington State. Herbert had a set of blueprints for this lighthouse among his papers at the Detroit Public Library, and the tower was under construction in 1888—however, this is only an educated guess.
Seven more reference slips refer to letters dated between January and June of 1889. All seven are requests for reimbursement for travelling expenses. The first three in January and February were addressed from Highland, Michigan, so we may assume Herbert was home for the holidays. All others were sent from Philadelphia and Herbert uses the title of Superintendent of Construction on all. So, the most we can conclude is that Herbert was travelling for the Light-House Establishment during his first four years, and we have the one letter signed “Inspector of Metal-Work,” but precisely what his other assignments were is unknown at this time.
THE LIGHTHOUSE PHOTOGRAPHS
The summer of 1892 marked a major change in Herbert's professional career. To understand more, we need to return to the subject of Herbert’s well-known photographs of American lighthouses mentioned in the introduction to Part I of this article. As the primary focus of my research is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, North Carolina, I knew that the seven photographs Herbert took in 1893 were also the earliest known images of this light, completed and lit in December 1870.
The foremost dealer in nautical and lighthouse-related antiques, Kenrick A. Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques of Worcester, Massachusetts, occasionally listed original photographs and other Bamber items for sale. It was through the Claflin’s website that I first learned the term “cyanotype,” a different kind of photographic print—quick, inexpensive copies, with a distinctive blue-green hue—that Herbert produced on-site and retained for his own records.
From the lighthouseantiques.net web site: “Mr. Bamber made an extra print of each photograph for his own files and these photographs were found in his barn in the Midwest a few years ago. These were original photographs, hand printed at the lighthouse location in 1892-93....These rare early views were from a process known as cyanotype, named for one chemical, cyan, that is used, thus the blue/white coloring rather than the traditional black/white. Most photographs printed in this manner show considerable detail.” [Note: cyan is not actually a chemical, but the blue-green hue produced by the chemical potassium ferrocyanide.]
As mentioned earlier and recently verified with James Claflin (Kenrick's son), a trunk full of Herbert's materials, including the cyanotypes, was found in a barn on the Bamber family property in Highland Township. It is known that this trunk, and possibly other possessions, was sold at auction sometime prior to 1978 when the present owners purchased the property. Mr. Claflin indicated that an elderly couple brought the trunk of materials to him to sell on consignment in the mid-1990s. Herbert's photographs and documents were then sold through Claflin's website and catalog to their extensive clientele of lighthouse collectors and aficionados.
In the spring of 2011, an Illinois man offered for sale on eBay a collection of Bamber materials that he had purchased from Claflin in 1997. The collection included seven original cyanotypes, three of which were of Cape Hatteras. I purchased the collection immediately. What I did not realize at the time was just how valuable, in terms of my research, the other materials in this collection would be. In addition to the seven cyanotypes, the collection included:
- Two carbon copies of Herbert's photographic supply order, as well two carbon copy pages of typewritten price quotes received from Williams, Brown, & Earle, importers and manufacturers of Mathematical, Optical, Microscopical, Photographic Instruments and Supplies in Philadelphia. Each of these sheets is dated and contains Herbert's original pencil notes he made in preparation for his journey.
- A photocopy of Herbert's first logbook detailing each lighthouse location and every photograph he took, with notes on weather conditions, exposure settings, and other comments, including the notation “To L. H. B.” to the right of each entry, which he sometimes spelled out as “To L. H. Board,” to confirm that each finished print was mailed back to Light-House Board headquarters. Unfortunately this logbook only includes photographs through number 261, taken at Point Loma, San Diego, California, on December 13, 1893, so we do not have a detailed record of the rest of his journey. Additionally, some pages of this photocopied logbook are difficult to read, due both to Herbert's handwriting and the quality of the reproduction.
- A second photocopied book of all the cyanotype prints found in the trunk. In the field, every final photograph that Herbert created was neatly labeled along the bottom edge, but in the case of the cyanotypes, the labeling simply included his print number and the light station name, usually in pencil on the back with the print number sometimes in red ink on the front. In this volume, which was printed in March 1996, Claflin added his own printed labels on each page. These labels include Herbert's numbers and the light station’s name and are ordered numerically within the album. The volume begins with photograph number 2, taken at the Isles of Shoals Light Station, in New Hampshire, and ends with number 371, taken at Willapa Bay, in Washington. Some prints are missing, and many of them, including the seven I purchased, show some water damage to one side of the print. In most cases the damage is just a brown staining extending into the print, but it is clear that some prints were badly damaged, which may explain why some images are missing.
These new-found documents provide a wealth of information concerning Herbert’s photographic expedition, enabling me, 120 years later, to create a reasonably complete record of his journey. Using the dates from the quote for photographic supplies and from his logbook, the album of his cyanotypes from Kenrick Claflin, the 17 intact letters obtained from the National Archives, as well as information from the 43 reference slips, I was able to determine which light station Herbert was at on a particular day, how long he stayed (or at least when he arrived at the next location), the totals for the number of photos he took and stations visited, and how many months this protracted assignment demanded of him.
BAMBER'S “SPECIAL DUTY”
One reference slip found refers to a letter dated March 15, 1892. It was written by the Secretary of the Treasury and states, “Bamber, H. Engineer Asst. L.H. Service employment. authorized.” As we know Herbert was already employed with the Light-House Service, but evidently, at this time, Herbert had been assigned to a new position.
Although the complete letters could not be retrieved, two reference slips dated June 14 and June 25 reveal that Herbert had been re-assigned to perform a “Special Duty”—described in several subsequent records as a “Survey of Lighthouse Reservations.” As these new records came to light, it finally became clear that Herbert's enduring and well-recognized photographs were just one part of a larger scheme within the Light-House Establishment. The letters reveal that much of the time travelling Herbert wore the hat of surveyor, with his transit (a surveyor's instrument of measure), level, and notebook, methodically calculating corners and measuring angles and distances, to determine and record the precise boundaries of each lighthouse reservation. Subsequently he put on the hat of a photographer to create his renowned images.
On June 20, 1892 Herbert received a quote from Williams, Brown & Earle, importers and manufacturers of Mathematical, Optical, Microscopical, Photographic Instruments and Supplies in Philadelphia, for equipment and supplies required for a photographic field and developing outfit. The camera he chose was a folding Scovill Albion 8” x 10” camera, a state-of-the-art camera for a photographer working in the field. Twenty-four days later, on July 14, Herbert recorded his first photograph in his logbook at the Isles of Shoals Light, on present day White Island, six miles off the coast of New Hampshire.
By their nature, lighthouses are often remote, lonely places and, especially in the nineteenth century, difficult to access. From the solitary rocks of White Island, New Hampshire, to the mosquito-infested sands of Hatteras, North Carolina, to the craggy cliffs of the Pacific Northwest, Herbert steadfastly trekked onward. We can only imagine the difficulties Herbert had transporting camera, chemicals, glassware, and other delicate equipment from trains, to boats, to horse and wagon, to 68 light stations in every nook and cranny of America's coastline. Upon arrival at each station, Herbert surveyed the station's site, carefully composed and shot his photographs, noting the camera's station for each exposure on his survey, developed his negatives, printed his final prints and copies, carefully labeling each one, and finally, packed up his equipment for the next leg of his journey to another remote guardian of the shores.
PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE 1890s
For some readers, film photography may be an unfamiliar concept—especially in this digital age with a camera phone in every pocket. For those who do remember film photography—using negatives, paper, and chemicals processing—we may have a somewhat better understanding of what photography was to Herbert and his contemporaries.
At the time Herbert took his first photograph in 1892, photography had become a popular pastime, profession, and tool, and innovations were rapidly being made. Most 19th century photographs were “albumen” prints. Invented in 1850, the albumen print was the first commercially usable method of producing a photographic print on paper from a negative. It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the chemicals to the paper and became the primary form of photographs through the turn of the century.
The beauty of albumen photographs was related to their smooth hard surface, translucent luminosity, and soft tonal coloration. The warmth and radiance of such prints are their fundamentally distinguishing characteristic, and their color varied from a red-violet to a warm reddish brown or sepia.
Albumen photographs were printed on very thin paper. Although none of Herbert’s lighthouse photographs were mounted, most 19th century albumen prints were glued to a piece of cardboard called a mount. The larger of these mounts was called a “cabinet card,” so called because it was often displayed in a cabinet. Smaller, pocket-sized versions were known as “carte de visite,” French for visiting card, and often were used as calling cards. Local stores often sold cabinets or cartes of famous people, from Presidents to actresses, as well as nature scenes and cityscapes, and collecting these and pasting them into albums was a popular pastime.
Another photographic process, invented in 1842, was the cyanotype. Unlike albumen prints, these vivid blue images had a matte surface, but also showed considerable detail. The process became commonplace because of its relative ease compared to other processes. By simply pressing a sensitized sheet of paper against the glass negative and exposing it to direct sunlight, a “negative-of-a-negative” could be made—the cyanotype. These were actually the first “blue prints” and were used to reproduce engineering drawings, as well as photographs, just as many blueprints are still created today. In fact, on one of the sheets of Herbert’s photographic supplies quote, in his own handwriting he noted a number of additional items, the first one being, “6 Doz. 8 x 10 B. Print Paper,” or, six dozen sheets of sensitized “Blue Print Paper” for the cyanotype copies he wanted for his own files.
Understanding Herbert’s new assignment—his “special duty”— and the process he used for his impressive images, we turn our attention to his travels across America. From the records we see that the Light-House Establishment was not unlike a military operation. As an Assistant Engineer, Herbert was required to report to the Chief Engineer within each district he visited. That engineer, in turn, would write to the Light-House Board to verify his arrival and clarify Herbert’s specific assignment.
Once Herbert completed all the surveys and photographs within each district, the Chief Engineer, in a letter to the Board, would release and terminate Herbert’s assignment there, to be turned over to another district’s Chief Engineer. And so, in July 1892, reporting to Chief Engineer Livermore in the 1st and 2nd Districts, Herbert arrived at the Isles of Shoals Light Station off the coast of New Hampshire and, over the next seventeen days, surveyed and photographed eight light stations on the coast of New Hampshire and north along the Maine coastline.
On October 10th, Herbert completed his work at Petit Manon Light Station, near Bar Harbor, Maine, and by October 26th, 16 days later, he had reported to Chief Engineer Quinn with the 7th and 8th Districts to survey the light station at Biloxi, Mississippi. From Biloxi, Herbert travelled west to Pascagoula, surveying and photographing four more lights before moving on to Pensacola, on the western tip of the Florida panhandle. On December 21, 1892, Herbert recorded four photographs at the Cape San Blas Light Station in Saint Joseph's Bay and then, after the turn of the new year, proceeded down the west coast of Florida to St. Mark’s Light, then Cedar Keys, and on down to the tip of Key West, arriving there February 6, 1893. One letter dated February 1, 1893 written by Engineer Quinn gives us an excellent insight as to how decisions regarding Herbert’s assignment were being made. Addressing the Board, Quinn wrote: “After Mr. Bamber finishes the topographical survey of Key West, Fla. light-house reservation I do not think there are any other light-house reservations in either the 7th or 8th Districts which possess any topographical features which are not already given with sufficient detail in the surveys already existing. The survey of Point Isabel Light, Texas, could not be made very well at present since the property does not belong to the United States, and a survey will have to be made after its acquisition to establish the boundary lines, etc. The remaining light-house reservations are either swamp, marsh, or level land, as to be devoid of topographical features worthy of consideration other than those already indicated in the existing surveys. In view of the fact that there are other localities which may be in more urgent need of Mr. Bamber's services than I can lay claim to, I take this opportunity of advising the Board that I do not believe that I have further need of Mr. Bamber's services after he completes the survey of the Key-West light-house reservation. I have informed him to await instructions at Key West, Fla”
Upon receiving new instructions from Washington, Herbert left Key West and travelled 700 miles north to Morris Island, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. For unknown reasons, Herbert remained here for 31 days from February 20th until March 22nd. Finally taking leave of Morris Island, Herbert moved northward up the coast to stations at Sullivan’s Island, Fort Sumpter, Bull's Bay, and Cape Romain. In his travels, Herbert photographed both solid towers of brick and steel, as well as less substantial beacons and range lights, many lost to storms long ago. For those lights that no longer exist, Herbert’s photographs may be the only visual record we have of these forgotten beacons.
After leaving Cape Romain, Herbert arrived at Oak Island, North Carolina to photograph a set of wooden tower range lights, then hopped over to Bald Head Island to record the old stone tower there on May 4, 1893. In Herbert's day this light was known as the Cape Fear Light Station—we know it today as the Baldhead Island Lighthouse or “Old Baldy.” Herbert continued up the coast to Cape Lookout, then on to Ocracoke, Hatteras, Body's Island (now spelled Bodie), Currituck Beach Lighthouse, finally reaching Long Point Lighthouse Depot, a transfer terminal and manufacturing facility for lantern gas, located west of Currituck on Coinjock Bay, on June 19th, 1893.
Days later, as he left North Carolina and the 5th District behind, Herbert boarded a train and headed homeward toward Michigan and the Great Lakes, arriving on the coast of Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula on July 22. Herbert likely stopped in Philadelphia at his office and residence, or possibly at his Highland homestead, accounting for the extended trip.
From a visit to the Superior Pierhead Lights, Herbert crossed over to photograph the Duluth Range lights and the brand new light station at Two Harbors completed in 1892, and then across to the Apostle Islands to photograph Devil's Island, also brand new, although this beacon was just a short wooden skeletal light. He remained on Devil’s Island for twelve days, then sailed over to the stately tower at the Outer Island Light Station in mid-September. Crossing back again to the Upper Peninsula, Herbert visited the Portage River Pierhead Light, also newly erected. One month later, on November 13th, Herbert was in Port Washington, 300 miles south, on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Having completed his survey of these seven lights on the Great Lakes, Herbert apparently received new orders, as one month later, on December 13, 1893, he arrived in the Port of San Diego at Point Loma Light Station in California. This is his last entry in the only logbook we have.
THE LAST LEG
Without a second logbook for reference, we have thirteen letters, seventeen reference slips, and the cyanotypes themselves to construct a reasonably clear story of how Herbert spent the final year of his “special duty” in 1894, surveying reservations on the West Coast.
Nine slips dated from May 14 to June 27, 1894, are Bamber's weekly reports of survey activities within the 12th District along California's 800-mile coastline. Cross-checking these with the cyanotypes in Claflin's album, we see that after leaving Point Loma, Herbert continued skipping up the West Coast to Point Ballast, Fermin, Hueneme, and on to Santa Barbara. From Santa Barbara he continued north to Point Conception, San Luis Obispo, Piedras Blancas, Point Sur, Point Pinos, Trinidad Head, and finally the Cape Mendocino Light Station, approximately 150 miles south of the Oregon border. We know Herbert ended up here in the summer of 1894 because a reference slip dated August 6 states, “Bamber, H.---reporting to 13th Engineer for duty, (Surveys of L.H. reservations) has been directed.” The 13th District encompassed Oregon and Washington, and though we have a record of him reporting to Chief Engineer Post in the Portland office on August 11, there are no records of him surveying or photographing a single lighthouse in the state of Oregon. Instead, Herbert went directly north to the Cape Flattery Light Station at the farthest northwest tip of Washington, beyond Neah Bay, a literal stone's throw from the British Columbia border. Throughout September and October, Herbert continued his survey, visiting nine light stations on the northern coast of Washington along the Straight of Juan de Fuca, on the isles of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, then south to Vashon Island, just below Seattle, and lastly, the Willapa Bay Light on the western coast of Washington at Cape Shoalwater. The two photographs that Herbert took here, numbered 370 and 371, were the last photographs of his two-and-a-half-year undertaking, documenting 65 light stations scattered across America's shores. On January 5, 1895, Engineer Post, in charge of the 13th District wrote the Light-House Board: “Referring to my letter of November 27, 1894, stating that the services of Assistant Engineer Bamber would probably be required in this district until January 1, 1895, I beg to state that owing to continued bad weather during last month which has greatly delayed his work, Mr. Bamber will be needed until February 1, 1895, to complete the required surveys.”
Exactly one month later, Engineer Post wrote one last time, stating, “In compliance with Board's letter of December, 1894, I have this day directed Mr. H. Bamber, Assistant Engineer, to proceed to Philadelphia, Pa., and report to Major C. W. Raymond, U.S.A., Engineer 4th Light-House District, for duty. Mr. Bamber will take with him the following list of public property belonging to the 4th Light-House District: 1 Transit with Solar Attachment, 1 Level, 1 Level Rod, 2 - 100' Steel Tapes (much worn), 1 - 50' Linen Tape, 1 Hand Level, 1 Plumb Level, 1 Set Drawing Instruments, 1 Small Drawing Board & T Square, in case, 2 Triangular Scales, 1 Trunk, as Stationary Chest, 1 Photographic Chest containing 1 camera, 7 Plate Holders, 1 Finder, 1 Lens, 7” Focus, 1 Lens, 14” Focus, 1 Exp. Meter, 5 - 8” x 10” Rubber Trays, 1 Set Scales, and a quantity of photographic and stationary supplies. Respectfully yours, James C. Post, Major, Corps of Engineers, U.S.A., Engineer, 13th Light-House Dist.”
The last reference slip found in the National Archives is dated March 11, 1895. It was written by Engineer Raymond of the 4th Light-House District in Philadelphia. The one line summary states, “Bamber Asst. Engineer. Date of reporting for duty 20 - Feby 1895 -- reported.” We can use this date as the end of Herbert's “Special Duty,” and the beginning of the rest of his service in the 4th Light-House District, where he remained until retirement.
The Archives' letters also verify for us that at each, or certainly most, of the 65 reservations that Herbert visited, he surveyed and created detailed drawings for each, in addition to his memorable photographs. A letter he wrote in September of 1894 reads, “I have the honor to transmit herewith three sheets showing the results of my survey at Cape Flattery Light Sta. Wash.,” and in October of the same year, “I have the honor to forward herewith seven sheets showing the results of my survey at the Ediz Hook Lt. Sta. Wash., both letters signed, “Very respectfully yours, H. Bamber, Asst. Engr.”
For Cape Hatteras I have copies in my possession of both Herbert’s detailed pencil-drawn survey completed on-site in June 1893 from field notes, as well as the final inked version which was created and filed at a much later time—in this case thirteen years later, as the final survey is dated "Office of the Light-House Board, 1906." I do not have the information to know if other surveys took as many years to be re-drawn and filed.
In mapping Herbert's journey it is interesting to note the hundreds of light stations that Herbert did not visit or survey. As far as records show, Herbert never visited or surveyed the eastern coast of Florida and Georgia, notably skipping the Mosquito Inlet Light Station that he had just completed five years earlier, all of the lighthouses on the Louisiana or Texas coasts, all of the lighthouses between North Carolina and New Hampshire, which includes Herbert's own 4th District, and also skipping scores of lights, other than the seven he did visit, along the coastlines of the Great Lakes. Again, it seems clear that engineers at the Light-House Board determined which reservations needed this documentation most and where Herbert should travel next. It was also evident that a number of lights on his list were brand new (e.g., Devil's Island, Two Harbors, Portage River, etc.) and presumably in need of a survey and documentation for the Board's files.
A NOTE ON MAJOR SMITH
In researching Major Jared A. Smith, one of the more influential men in Herbert’s life, I was surprised to discover that Herbert was not the first individual to take photographs for the Light-House Board. An online search for Jared A. Smith, and specifically a search for images, retrieved at least 10 verified photographs taken by Smith in June and August 1885, in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. We know from Herbert’s journals that Smith received his orders to report to the 5th and 6th Lighthouse districts in June 1884. This tells us that one year after beginning his work at the Light-House Establishment, and at least seven years before Herbert set out on his journey, the photographing of lights for the files of the Light-House Board already was being practiced by Major Smith.
These photographs are also 8” x 10” albumen prints and similar to Herbert’s, were labeled with the station’s name and date—but unlike Herbert’s, these labels were handwritten in a neat script, and further, Smith included his name as the photographer (Herbert’s photographs never included his own name).
Nora Chidlow, archivist with the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office in Washington, D.C. checked record boxes and folders for specific lighthouses, and verified that Smith’s original photographs are indeed filed there, but only a more thorough search can tell how many of Smith’s photos are archived there, and whether he was the first to photograph light stations for the Board.
However, in examining Herbert's 371 known prints, it is evident that he took the practice of photographing lighthouses for the Light-House Board to a higher level. Herbert took numerous views of most stations he visited, and his photographs are carefully, one could say artfully, composed, and for the first time—in fact the only time I have found—the photographs are identified by a printed label on the bottom border of the print itself with the station name, the date, the camera station from which the image was shot (which Herbert noted on his surveys), the building or view (e.g., tower, dwelling, boat house, etc.), plus Herbert’s own print numbers, which refer to his logbooks, producing a detailed record of each visit and station at that time.
BACK AT THE BOARD
Once Herbert returned to the 4th District in March of 1895, we have a variety of scattered reports, articles, and records that shed light on Herbert's activities over the next 20-odd years. Annotated blueprints for 41 lighthouses—18 in Delaware, 11 in New Jersey, 4 in Pennsylvania, 5 in Virginia, and one each in Maryland, New York, and Washington State—are among his papers in the Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library, as well as some of his official correspondence with the Light-House Board. Only a careful analysis of these prints and notes, along with a systematic survey of the records at each of these lighthouses would enable us to understand what Herbert's work entailed with each project—whether it be advisory, administrative, on-site supervision, or possibly in some other capacity. With exception of Washington State, these blueprints are all of lights within Herbert's own 4th District and are not associated with his travels surveying light stations across the country.
More evidence of Herbert’s work during these later years came to light with the discovery of three lighthouse inspection reports. In January 1907, Herbert wrote an inspection report for the Killick Shoal Light Station, located “In S'ly end of Chincoteague Bay, at its main Southernly entrance,” in the 5th District in Virginia. Then in November of the same year, he wrote a report for the Fishing Point Beacon Light Station, located “On end of Fishing Point, E of Assateague Anchorage, southernly end of Assateague Island, seacoast of VA,” in the 5th District in Virginia. In December, Herbert's report was on the Schooner Ledge Range Front Light Station, located “On N'ly side of Delaware River, at mouth of Crum Creek, about 1 mile below the Lazaretto,” in the 4th District in Pennsylvania. Further research likely would reveal many more reports as part of Herbert's routine work over the years.
Additionally, a recent article written in the Sun by-the-Sea newspaper from Wildwood, New Jersey on the “Great Northeaster of 1913” recounts the story of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse on a fragile barrier island, three miles from the mainland. Within the story is this note: “A lighthouse board engineer, H. Bamber, conducted a thorough survey of the entire property in 1907. He reported to Washington that the site is threatened by the encroachment of the south channel of the Hereford Inlet.’ ” This additional piece of evidence shows that Herbert continued to survey light stations for the 4th District.
In March 1908 Herbert applied in Philadelphia for what is believed to be his first passport “for traveling the countries of Europe and northern Africa,” and said that he intended to return within one year. Although we do not know when Herbert embarked on his overseas voyage, the November 11, 1908, passenger list for the S. S. Haverford, sailing from Liverpool to Philadelphia, listed “H. Bamber” among the 98 passengers onboard.
Both the 1911 alumni directory of the Michigan Agricultural College and the 1912 University of Michigan Catalogue of Officers and Students, show listings for Herbert as a civil engineer living and working in Philadelphia.
On September 21, 1912 Bamber again applied for a passport in Philadelphia to go abroad “temporarily,” and stated that he would return within one year. Herbert was 54 years old at this time and still listed himself as a “civil engineer” for the Light-House Service, so we may assume that this travel, as with his 1908 trip, concerned work for the Light-House Establishment.
By 1920, Herbert was retired and living near his Highland, Michigan, birthplace. He was 61 years old and that year’s census showed a house owned free and clear, with his profession listed as farmer “at home,” and “self-employed.” The Ark Farm, where Herbert, his two brothers, and sister grew up was his apparent retirement residence for perhaps 10 years or more. According to his obituary that appeared in The Milford Times, “...His work took him on extensive travels, both in America and abroad .... After retiring from federal service he returned to West Highland to make his home on the Bamber farm, which he acquired, and after its sale made his home at West Highland village, looking after extended business interests.” Also, according to an article in The Milford Times, Herbert's father Joseph sold the farm to Herbert in 1896. In 1908 his name appears on the plat map of Highland Township as the owner as well.
Records at the courthouse in Pontiac show that in 1928, Herbert sold the land to Theodore and Epsie Cowley, and moved about a mile east to his last residence, a home on the corner of Hickory Ridge Road and West Highland Road, known locally as M-29. In 1930, the Cowley’s property was foreclosed on by the Union Joint Stock Land Bank. Nine years later, in 1939, the bank sold the land to a farmer, Leslie H. Fordyce. The property is now the home of the School Bell Daycare Center, who purchased it in 1977.
Herbert's 1920 passport application tells an interesting story. For the first time, he states the object of his trip as “Recreation,” and says that he plans to travel to Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Panama, and Costa Rica, leaving from the ports of New Orleans, Tampa, and Key West “as soon as practicable.” A photograph of Bamber at age 61 is attached to the application and, beside his picture is the typewritten note: “Applicant wishes to state that he is a resident of Michigan and is in Philadelphia en route to the South; he will remain in Philadelphia awaiting the granting of his passport and will appreciate any consideration the Department may give to the early disposition of his application.” He lists his occupation as “civil engineer, retired.”
The closer we come to the present, the less we see of Herbert. His name appears in the 1930 census, then 71 years old, and is listed as having “no occupation.” His house listed as “R” for rented at $15 per month.
Then in 1937, as reported in the December 17 issue of The Milford Times, “Stricken with apoplexy, Herbert Bamber expired very unexpectedly Tuesday afternoon [December 14] at his home at West Highland. Having some business to transact at Pontiac, he had made arrangements to be driven over by his neighbor, Mrs. Perry Hewitt, who stopped for him at the appointed time of 1:30 p.m. He came out on the porch, put up a little card telling the probable time of return, as he was in the habit of doing when leaving home, and saying he would be ready presently, went inside. Mrs. Hewitt waited for nearly half an hour for him to emerge, before deciding to investigate, and found his lifeless body just inside the door, apparently having expired just after re-entering the house. He was in his 79th year and unmarried.”
There is an unusual and interesting footnote to Herbert’s death. In the December 24, 1937, edition of The Milford Times, the following story appeared: “Three passenger coaches, a freight car and a mail car of the Pere Marquette train, northbound from Detroit to Bay City, was derailed last Friday morning at the Inkster Road crossing south and east of Plymouth. The passenger coaches plunged down an embankment, coming to rest 25 feet from the tracks….a passenger on the ill-fated train was Herbert Buell, who was on his way to attend the funeral of his uncle, Herbert Bamber, at West Highland. He suffered injuries to leg, ear and hand, but was able to keep going and continued to Highland by automobile.” Herbert Buell, named for Herbert Bamber and the only son of Herbert’s sole surviving sister Mary Elizabeth, must have contemplated his own mortality while honoring his uncle.
MEMORIES OF HERBERT
In researching this civil servant who produced such beautiful early lighthouse photographs, I have had the pleasure to connect by phone and email with several extended family members who remember "cousin Herbert" when they were children growing up. Over the past few months, they have shared some memories. Here is a sampling.
A cousin, Mary Ann Smith, recalled, "Herbert was a cousin of my grandfather Will Bamber. I was only about 5 or so when Cousin Herbert died, but I do remember him--a rather tall, white-haired, dignified man who came to the family reunions or hosted a reunion....I can remember that he had something to do with lighthouses, but I have never seen one of them. I do remember that he was a generous person, and his family was important to him. When my parents married, Cousin Herbert gave them an eight-piece setting of sterling silver table ware. And when each of their girls were born, he gave a child-size setting of the same to each. I treasure mine, and think of Cousin Herbert whenever I see them. He also gave some farm tools to my father. One of them was a wooden-wheeled farm wagon. I am interested in genealogy, and Cousin Herbert put together a booklet of the Bamber family. He also did some traveling in connection with that."
William Bamber, Mary Ann's brother, wrote me: “I am Herbert Bamber’s grand nephew…. my sister Ellie of Ann Arbor, who had visited Herbert at the Ark up to age six, remembers him well….When I was very small I would go with my parents about twice a year to Holly, Michigan and visit Mary [Herbert’s sister] and Leslie Buell at their home…I have a solid wheeled wagon running gear stored in my machine shed which Herbert gave my father when my father started farming.”
Betty Buell Baldwin, Herbert’s great-niece, recalled in an e-mail: "My father Herbert J. Buell was named after him. His father Leslie and Herbert attended MAC [Michigan Agricultural College] together.... My grandparents drove and camped down to Florida to visit Herbert in 1924."
Ms. Baldwin, who lives in Maryland with her husband Cal, has a number of family albums, and who contributed all of the photographs of Herbert and his family for this article, said in a later email, "...the album was put together by my grandfather, Leslie A. Buell [Herbert's sister's husband] ...and my father told me that they had many pictures of Herbert....his passport photo which looks as I remember him when he visited us in Indianapolis about 1927 or so. I was about 3 1/2 or so then."
Regarding her father, Herbert L. Buell, Betty stated, "Herbert Bamber, his uncle was in and out of the house but made certain demands on him - like every day he had to count the chickens? I have a note my Dad wrote to him, writing that he could not count the chickens that day because he had a cold and his mother told him not to go out."
And regarding her grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Bamber Buell, Betty said, "She and husband Leslie drove to Florida and camped all the way and back again to Michigan. From the records he kept it seems that was what many in Michigan and other cold states did."
One letter that was passed on to me that had been published in a HTHS newsletter, as well as circulated among the relatives, was from Ethel May Bamber Gibson, who was interviewed about Herbert when she was in her nineties. Ms Gibson wrote, "Herbert was a six-foot, well-built, slender, sedate, genuine English gentleman. He had keen steely gray eyes, a sharp profile and distinguished, intelligent bearing. He was always smoothly shaven and moved with deliberate body movements. His sense of humor was decidedly English but always kindly and helpful. Herbert was always neat and properly dressed with a professional and austere approach to problems....On visiting his bachelor headquarters, one was always impressed with the stack of newspapers nearly room high and in perfect order....The Buells were cared for in their Holly home for years while Herbert kept a “center of activity” in West Highland across from the corner store. This is where he died in 1937."
HERBERT BAMBER’S LEGACY
For years, lighthouse historians have known little of Herbert Bamber other than that he traveled around the country photographing lighthouses for the Light-House Board in the early 1890s. His crisp, clean, and composed images from that journey are remarkable gifts to us more than a century later. But as we now know, he was also a farmer, a teacher, a surveyor, a civil engineer, a resourceful problem solver, a dedicated public servant, a world traveler, a businessman, and a kind and devoted relative to his siblings, nephews, nieces, and cousins. Our picture of him may not be as clear as his exceptional lighthouse prints, but we now know significantly more of the story of a rural Michigan farm boy who left us an impressive legacy of lighthouses and their keepers at the end of the 19th century. Herbert might be surprised to find he is still remembered, but part of him, no doubt, would see the remembrance as a fitting complement to his photographs.
John Havel is a graphic designer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He has been fascinated by the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for many years, and this study of Herbert Bamber is an offshoot of a larger research effort to create an accurate photographic history and chronology of this interesting and beautiful lighthouse. John lives in Raleigh with his wife, Aida, who helps with his lighthouse research.