Lightkeeper’s Journal #4
Where’s the Water?
By Rebecca Quinn
In a place that is dryly known as “the Wet Coast”, it’s difficult to imagine anyone having issues with a water supply–generally it’s the excess of water, not the lack of, that the west coasters find themselves battling. But back when Shirley’s Sheringham Point Lighthouse was still manned, water was, in fact, a problem for the keepers.
The issue was there was no artesian water supply. “You can drill into that rock all you want,” says Elanie Bruton, daughter of Sheringham’s last official lightkeeper, Jim Bruton, “and you are not going to get water.” In fact, the first lightkeeper, Eustace Arden, who came to the light in 1912, wrote that water was in such short supply that on occasion his wife used seawater for washing and cooking. Things hadn’t improved much by the time Alfred Dickenson took over in 1946. Writing in his logbook, he moaned, “Oh for some God’s fresh water, and a hot bath!”
Mike Cross, a junior keeper in the mid 1960s, said he generally used the water off of the junior lightkeeper’s house’s roof. “It was collected into a cistern and then you pumped it from the cistern up to a tank in the attic. That provided the pressure for the taps and what not.” Elanie Bruton says there was a similar set up in the head lightkeeper’s house. “In our house was a cistern, built into the basement, and a water pump. We would catch the water off the roof of our house and it would go down to the eavestroughs and into the first tank, which held 6 feet of silica sand. That would filter the water. It would go through that sand and then go into our giant cistern tank. And that was our water supply.”
“At some point somebody discovered that there was [a spring] back into the woods a ways,” Elanie Bruton explains. “So, the government put a line in [that] came down to our house and the junior keeper’s house.” But the keepers still preferred to use the rainwater as they didn’t really like the taste of the spring water. It might have had something to do with the fact that “if you turned on the tap outside, salamanders came out of the hose!”
But the salamanders were just a small glitch. “Once in awhile a bear would get into [the water crib]. He would bathe in there and pull the line out. Made a bit of a mess,” says Elanie Bruton. Later, “when Sheringham Estates was built, there was a problem with the water [again]–there was all this muck coming out of the hose,” recalls Elanie Bruton. Unaware that a subdivision was going in, she and her sister hiked into the woods and were really surprised when they found a massive bulldozer sitting in the water source. At this point, a bear would have seemed trivial. The government later made a deal to sell Sheringham Estates the water rights so long as the lighthouse would always have water. “The bear doesn’t bathe in there anymore,” Elanie Bruton adds, laughing.
Since 1989, the water supply has ceased to be a concern. The lighthouse was de-staffed and fully automated, and all the houses and buildings on the property are gone except for the tower and part of the fog horn engine room. The Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society hopes to preserve what remains for future generations.
For more information, visit the SPLPS website www.sheringhamlighthouse.org.