Harriet (Stone) Simmons grew up at two Florida lighthouses were her father, Benjamin Stone, served as a lighthouse keeper. He served at Hillsboro Lighthouse from the early 1920s until 1926 when he was transferred to Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. In 1936 he was transferred back to Hillsboro Lighthouse where he served until his death in 1942.
Before the 100th birthday celebration of Hillsboro Lighthouse, Harriet recalled some memories of her childhood life at the lighthouse.
Like many other kids they took the school bus to and from school, But it was the after school time, that was the most fun at the lighthouse, when her and the other children would go swimming “til the sun was almost down.”
As the sun would set, the kids would climb the tower with their father and take down the curtains that protected the lens from the harmful rays of the sun to get the lens ready to shine its powerful beam at night. They were never allowed to touch the lens or the brass fittings unless they had a cloth in their hands and then, they were generally helping to polish the brass or clean the glass.
Not having toys or TV in those days, the children had a see-saw, flying-ginny and a spring board that their father had made. She recalled, “If we were too rough or got hurt, we couldn’t play on them for a couple of days. Having four brothers, I thought I was just as tough as them.” The children also had lots of animals at the lighthouse; a raccoon, a rabbit and two skunks were kept in cages. They even had an alligator named Joe. Harriett said it took two kids to clean Joe’s cage; “one to scratch him between the eyes to keep him asleep, while the other scrubbed his cage.”
During turtle egg laying time they would climb the lighthouse and watch where the turtles were laying their eggs. It those days it was not against the law to dig up the eggs, which the kids would do. They would sell the eggs to Cap’s Place, a popular restaurant near the lighthouse, where the cooks would make popular ‘turtle egg pancakes.’ Also, since Cap’s Place did not have a telephone, people would call the lighthouse phone to make reservations.
Another interesting memory of Harriet’s was recounted, “At low tide the sand bar was out of water, so we would dig for clams. When Mrs. Rudy Alexander, who was the bridge tender, wanted some clams, we would dig them up and float with the incoming tide to take the bucket of clams over to the bridge. Mrs. Alexander would then make clam patties for her two daughters, Kathleen and Mary and us kids. Then at high tide, we’d jump off the bridge and swim home in the clear water; so clear you could see the bottom of the inlet.”
She went on to recall, “When the Hillsboro Club was closed for the summer, we had the beach to ourselves. We would comb the beach for shells and sea beans, which could be polished, which was my brother Fred’s job. The best shells were on the coral reefs and on the north corner of the inlet. We would find bleeding hearts, conches, star fish, sand dollars and many other shells. Under the edge of the reef, with the help of a glass bottom bucket, we would get lobster and tiny fish. We would make more spending money by selling what we caught. Mom would send a lunch with us a put lemon in it for me as I was always getting seasick. The lemon would settle my stomach.”
Harriet continued, “There are granite boulders that had been brought in to help keep the beech from eroding. These boulders had holes large enough so we could hide in them. We had wiener roasts down there to, too. We did everything as a family. We did not have much company because the lighthouse was government property.”
The kids always got excited when a ship would go by and a salute was sounded from the vessel. They would lower the flag to half mast and to the delight of all the kids the ships would blow their steam whistle three times. However, their father would not allow them to do this too often with each vessel, explaining that the ships might lose too much of their steam to power the vessel into Port Everglades.
In closing Harriet said, “Those were the best years of my life. Today, I love living close enough to be able to visit the place where I grew up.”
We thank Harriet for sharing these memories with us that were first reported in Big Diamond the official newsletter of the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society. However, it is unfortunate that more kids in today’s lifestyle do not enjoy the type of lifestyle the Stone kids did back in the 1930s and 40s.
To learn more about the Hillsboro Lighthouse you can visit their web site at www.HillsboroLighthouse.org or write to them at P.O. Box 610326, Pompano Beach, FL 33061-0326.
This story appeared in the
April 2009 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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