By Ralph Krugler, Historian, Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society.
Benjamin Franklin Stone was the last civilian lighthouse keeper at Florida’s Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse prior to the Reorganization Act of 1939. But his story, like all light keepers, began well before his taking of the Oath.
Benjamin Franklin Stone was born on December 28, 1900 in the shadow of the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse, which, with a name change in1927, became the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. His father Franklin Stone was the local postmaster, and for a while Benjamin Stone served as an unofficial mail carrier, but Benjamin Stone’s passion wasn’t with the U.S. Post Office; he wanted to work for the Lighthouse Service. That opportunity came when the second assistant keeper at Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse, William T. Lundquist, resigned his position. Benjamin Stone was able to secure a temporary position “not to exceed one month pending the establishment of a register of eligibles [sic] from which to make selection for permanent appointment.”
Benjamin Stone didn’t want this to be a short-term job, so he took and passed his Civil Service Exam, which got his name on the list of eligibles. He then spent time bouncing between lighthouses and lighthouse tenders.
While serving on the U.S. Lighthouse Service lighthouse tender Water Lily, Benjamin Stone got married and decided that a job on land would be more suited for a young married man. When he found out that Clarence King was resigning as the 1st assistant keeper at the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse, he applied for and was awarded the job. The following year Benjamin Stone and his wife Anne welcomed their first child, Frederick Everett to the family. On the nights when he was on watch, he would often be joined by Annie, with baby Frederick by their side in a basket.
Benjamin Stone was always looking for an opportunity to earn more money for his family. This would take him in and out of the Lighthouse Service, but never far away, or even for very long. During one of his short excursions from the Lighthouse Service, he returned as a temporary laborer for extra pay.
The family continued to grow with sons Benjamin Jr., George Gray, and daughter Harriet Jane rounding them out. During this time, Benjamin Stone found himself working back on the lighthouse tenders doing work he enjoyed. While this was a good job with steady pay, the family was living ashore and Ben wasn’t happy about being away from them. His big break came on June 16, 1935 when he replaced the departing Arthur F. Hodge as the 1st Assistant of Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. As Harriet would say later, “this was when the children really grew to know their father.”
The Cape Canaveral was so remote in those days that the public never came to visit. To get to the nearest town, Cocoa Beach, they had to drive 25 miles over dirt roads just to get groceries. On one of these trips, Anne came across an injured animal that was trapped in a pit on the side of the road. This utterly broke her heart. Not being able to help by herself, she enlisted Benjamin and head keeper, Oscar Floyd Quarterman, to go back and rescue the poor beast. This they did, and to her surprise, they even brought it back with them. It was not your typical rescued animal though; it was an alligator that needed to be nursed back to health. The creature was so loved that they named him Joe and it became a part of the family, along with all the other animals (chickens, raccoons, opossums, and gopher tortoises) that the kids had befriended.
In 1937 when news reached Benjamin Stone that his old friend Thomas Knight, the head keeper at Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse, was retiring, the Stones reeled at the chance to be closer to civilization. The kids would be able to go to a real school, Annie would get to socialize with someone other than the wildlife of the Cape, and Benjamin would get to go back to the place where he wanted to work at until he died.
Soon the family was off. Their car was loaded with the family, and the trailer was packed with their possessions, but what about old Joe? Would you leave a “family member” behind? The Stones didn’t. Joe was tied to the back of the trailer and made the 150 mile journey to his new home. Florida was still mostly a rural frontier, but we can only imagine the looks on the faces in the various towns along the way as old Joe went by.
When the Stones arrived in Hillsboro, they all fell in love with the place. Even Joe got a new pen, complete with a cement pool and running water. Not surprisingly, he became a celebrity, and people came from all over to see him. The tradition of giving tours of the light went to the children who enjoyed meeting new people and showing off their lighthouse.
The family thrived in their new home. The kids played in the water and combed the beach for anything their father could polish and decorate the lighthouse reservation with. For extra money, the children caught lobsters or collected turtle eggs that they sold to the local restaurant, Cap’s Place, which was owned by the brother of former lighthouse keeper Thomas Knight.
But soon there was word that their way of life could possibly be coming to an end. The United States Coast Guard was taking over the Lighthouse Service, and the family fretted over the possibility that they might be forced out. To their joy, Benjamin Stone was offered the opportunity to retain his lighthouse keeper position. When the keepers were given the opportunity to remain as civilian keepers or join the Coast Guard as military keepers, Benjamin Stone elected to join the Coast Guard.
Unfortunately for Benjamin, in May of 1928, it was discovered that he had chronic heart disease, and by the early 1940s it was beginning to affect him. So, the joy the Stone family being allowed to stay at the lighthouse was short lived, and worsened to the point that that the government “retired” him in 1942.
Benjamin Stone’s health eventually got good enough so that he was able to get a job in Key West Florida where he worked on the installation of diesel engines on the new Submarine Chasers that the U.S. Navy was preparing. However, Benjamin Stone’s health then took another turn for the worse, and he passed away in April of 1945.
As for Joe the Alligator, when the Stones left the Hillsboro Lighthouse, he was transferred to an alligator farm in Palm Beach County Florida, where he lived his days in retirement.
Editor’s Note: The author of this story, Ralph Krugler, is collecting as many stories and photos as possible for a book on the complete history of the Hillsboro Lighthouse, but it seems that many stories and photos are still tucked away, waiting to be rediscovered, especially the of years when the Coast Guard was in charge and when the personal touch was no longer included in the log books. If you were personally stationed at Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse, or know of someone who was, please reach out Ralph Krugler at Largo43@icloud.com so that the stories can be saved.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2017 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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