Fog Signals

Fog is one of nature’s debilitating effects, especially for seafarer’s and their navigation. Seguin has been known to be one of the foggiest places in North America. The history of fog signals is fascinating, starting with the English who developed cannons to be some the world’s first fog signals¹. Used sparingly here in America, they were quickly deemed uneconomically viable and were replaced by bells. The first bell to come to Seguin is not well documented, most likely an 8” bronze bell. Many sailors complained that they could not hear the bell when a sea was running, crashing against the island and its ledges.

Seguin Island Light Station aids navigation in any weather condition (FOSILS Archives)

Seguin Island Light Station aids navigation in any weather condition (FOSILS Archives)

In 1858, the Jones fog bell arrived on the island, accompanied by its own striking system. The bell weighed upwards of one ton and needed to be struck twice quickly every 15 seconds in foggy conditions¹. Again this solution had problems, the striker was consistently breaking and the bell had to be rung for hours, sometimes days on end by hand. This combined with the fact that the tone the bell produced did not penetrate the fog effectively. These short comings coupled with the dawn of the steam engine lead the US government to invest in alternative methods. In 1870 an elaborate plan to haul coal to the top of the island to run a steam engine to power a whistle was devised. This plan included rain collection cisterns and coal bins to be built on Seguin.

Shot of Seguin’s “Jones” Fog Bell currently residing in Boothbay at the USCG way station. We have laid claim to the bell and have plans to return it to the island. (FOSILS Archives)

Shot of Seguin’s “Jones” Fog Bell currently residing in Boothbay at the USCG way station. We have laid claim to the bell and have plans to return it to the island. (FOSILS Archives)

The ten inch steam whistle was blasted every 52 seconds for 8 second intervals. Due to the dense and consistent occurrence of fog around Seguin, a fog signal house was constructed and another whistle was installed in 1876. The use of this signal was so intense the construction of a tram car was implemented and forever changed the characteristics of Seguin Island. The “American Sentinel” of Bath, Maine reported hearing the whistle from 18 to 20 miles away.

Fog signal building constructed in 1876 (FOSILS Archives)

Fog signal building constructed in 1876
(FOSILS Archives)

This is the first of three installments of historical research we are currently conducting on the various facets of the island. Watch for more fog signal history!

(1) History of Fog Signals Part 1 By Wayne C. Wheeler, Keepers Log 1990, United States Lighthouse Society. www.uslhs.org