The Questers Chapter from Ponte Vedra Beach recently donated $2,700 to the nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, sponsoring the housing and lighting of a 275 mm lightship lens that is on view in the 1941 WWII Coastal Lookout Building on site at the St. Augustine Light Station. The lens will be part of an exhibit called Guardians of the First Coast: Building Readiness for World War II, which describes the local stories just before and during the start of WWII in America, including Operation Drumbeat.
The Questers are an international organization founded in 1944, with goals to stimulate the appreciation of antiques through study and research, and to encourage the preservation of historical landmarks. Chapters often take on fundraising projects to help with preservation and restoration of a historical site or object.
Members of the group presented the check to Margaret Van Ormer, Museum Trustee. Van Ormer is an active sustainer of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine when the group restored the Keepers’ House and the St. Augustine Lighthouse. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Museum’s Board of Directors and was accompanied by Museum Executive Director Kathy Fleming.
Presenting the check for the Ponte Vedra Beach Questers were the group’s President Corrinne Martin, Treasurer Nancy Spadaro, and Member Pam Korchun.
Lightvessels were used in locations where it was unsuitable to build a permanent light structure. They were originally lit by oil lamps but later relied on electric lighting. The last lightship, The Nantucket, was decommissioned in 1985.
“The lens currently on display has not been lit in over three decades and thanks to the generosity of The Questers, it will be lit and placed on display in our new exhibit,” explained Scott Smith, Museum Support Specialist. “We will be using a 50-watt bulb to show visitors how dim our light station’s beacon was during WWII, after the attack on the SS Gulfamerica by U-123.”
The lens will figure prominently in the upcoming Guardians of the First Coast: Building Readiness for World War II, which include the events leading up to America’s entrance into the global conflict. With the threat of German U-boat attacks on American shipping off the Florida coast, the US Coast Guard was placed in the Department of the Navy. Governor Spessard Holland ordered blackout conditions along the coast in order to keep from aiding German U-boats targeting American ships. As a result, the lens atop all coastal lights were dimmed.
German U-boats often used the bright lights of the shore to spot the silhouette of ships, making them easy targets.
The Questers’ gift will help visitors visualize the change in wattage and what life was like during blackout conditions.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum holds 19,000 artifacts in its permanent collections. Over 2,000 of these objects, records and photos are from the WWII era. As a former military run site, the Museum also preserves two historic buildings from the years surrounding WWII. The exhibit is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources and the State of Florida, and donors like the Questers.
For more details about the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, visit staugustinelighthouse.org or call 904-829-0745.