Talking Points For Staff And Vips: Lighthouse

This lighthouse is not a memorial to Robert Israel. He was one of thousands of men (and women) who served as Lighthouse Keepers. Our Long-Range Interpretive Plan emphasizes our primary theme of representing the U.S. Light House Establishment, its people and its buildings, not one man or one lighthouse. Our lighthouse is an interpretive archetype, not an individual memorial.

This lighthouse honors all Keepers who brought a sense of dedication and responsibility to what was truly a 24/7 job. They had no days off, no sick leave, and no pensions. It was an isolated, repetitive, monotonous, drudgery with a constant underlying reality of true danger. They fulfilled their task with pride, constantly aware of the fact that the safety of sailors, passengers and ships depended on that beam of light always being there.

The furnishing and décor of this lighthouse has been carefully crafted to reveal the lifestyle common to virtually all Keepers in the 19th century.

Every item in this lighthouse is there for a reason, and is in the correct place, to create a real look at the setting in which Keepers and their families lived. The setting is designed to put a human face on these remarkable men and women. It is not intended to be a quaint excuse to display nifty artifacts.


This space was reserved for receiving and/or entertaining visitors. It was not a family space.

The Keeper kept his desk here to keep out of the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. His wife did her sewing by the Southwest window as it has the best light of any window in the building.

Being a small parlor, it does not have the traditional center table.


This is where life in the lighthouse was lived. In the winter it was the only room in the house that was heated. It was kitchen, dining room, schoolroom, bathing room, and general workroom.  Traditionally family members would work on various small hand projects while one family member read aloud from the Bible, newspapers, various books, or listened to the children reciting their lessons, or practiced their own reading ability out loud. In addition, these were families who enjoyed each other’s company, and basic conversation occupied many an hour of what little leisure time these people had.

Master Bedroom

Bedrooms were strictly for sleeping and getting dressed or undressed; they were not used as a leisure space. No one had the luxury of being awake in bed unless they were very sick. The one bed is designed to house both the Keeper and Assistant Keeper. The U.S. Lighthouse Establishment preferred to hire husband and wife teams as Keeper and Asst. Keeper as it cut down on the number of living quarters they had to construct. It also meant two paychecks for the family, which elevated their income to middle class means. From the very beginning, female Keepers earned exactly the same pay as males. The USLHE was the first federal agency to give women equal pay.

Other Bedroom

This was the only room available for the Keepers’ children. If this was not enough space, the older boys (ie. pubescent) would sleep in the storage area in the basement. The screen gave the female inhabitants of this room privacy from their brothers. After their chores and schoolwork were completed, the children played games outside, collected sea shells from the shore, mastered useful skills such as playing musical instruments, or read in the kitchen during bad weather. This was a bedroom, not a playroom. For lighthouses with access to schools (there was a school in Old Town, only 9 miles away from the Point Loma Lighthouse), children had the benefit of real teachers, at least through the fifth grade. For example, children at Point Loma light on Monday morning rowed a boat into Old Town, and spent the school week with their aunt. Friday after school they would row back to the lighthouse for their weekend chores.

Children at more isolated lighthouses would live in town with relatives, board with other families to attend school, or would be home taught.

Last revised 18-Aug-22