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Cape Spear Lighthouse Keeper's Residence

The Cape Spear lighthouse was built in 1835 as a dual structure consisting of both a lighthouse and a family residence for the lighthouse keeper and his family. The home, constructed in three columns, was built around a central tower containing the lighthouse (accessible from the second storey of the home). Fake windows were constructed on the house's exterior to complement the true windows and ensure that the home had a balanced appearance. This national historic site truly is a hidden gem and, for a nominal fee, visitors to Cape Spear can tour inside the original lighthouse which has been restored to the year 1839.

The Cape Spear lighthouse is located atop huge coastal cliffs overlooking the Atlantic ocean.
The original lighthouse at Cape Spear opened in 1836 and operated by the Cantwell family.

Cape Spear Lighthouse Operations

The lighthouse keeper and his family, living onsite, had to perform regular duties to ensure that the light beam functioned 24/7. The earliest beams of light for the lighthouse were produced using an oil-fired light source, large reflectors, and a crank-style clockwork mechanism. Perhaps the earliest oil product used to fuel the Argand burner was sperm oil (later replaced by cheaper oil sources such as seal oil and olive oil before converting to acetylene, electricity, and solar power). The clockwork operational system, using weighted barrels and ropes on pulleys, required a manual reset every couple of hours.

Barrels of Sperm oil to fire Cape Spear's Argand burners were kept in a storage room within the Cape Spear lighthouse adjacent to barrels of other household supplies.
Barrels of oil for the Argand burners were stored with other household supplies inside the Cape Spear lighthouse.

Rope attached to a pulley with chain in a staircase at the Cape Spear lighthouse, part of the crank-operated clockwork mechanism used to operate the lighthouse's light beam.
Clockwork pulley apparatus suspended from the ceiling in Cape Spear lighthouse's second floor stairway.

The longest serving lighthouse keeper was James Cantwell (1846-1879) and, together with his descendants, the Cantwell family served as Cape Spear lighthouse keepers for a period of about 150 years (with exception of two short terms in which someone other than a Cantwell descendant served as the lighthouse keeper). Following are photos taken inside the old lighthouse.

Inside the Cape Spear lighthouse keeper's residence, restored to 1839, are an old kitchen with antique furniture and kiln.
Cape Spear lighthouse depicts an old kitchen with antique furnishings and a kiln.

The kiln in the Cape Spear lighthouse keeper's kitchen has old appliances and candlesticks along its surface.
The kiln in the Cape Spear lighthouse keeper's kitchen has old appliances and candlesticks along its surface.

Old wallpaper, antique china, wooden chairs and a round table draped with a plain green cloth form the decor inside the tearoom at Cape Spear lighthouse keeper's residence.
Old wallpaper and antique furniture are part of the decor in the Cape Spear lighthouse keeper's tea room.

Inside the lighthouse keeper's residence at Cape Spear, the decor of a child's room  includes an old bed, old desk, old candlestick, small chalkboard and, on the wall, an old map.
A children's room at Cape Spear's lighthouse keeper's home has a small chalkboard, old furniture, and an old map.

On a desk in the lighthouse keeper's office are old candlesticks, a feather pen, old books and paperwork.
On a desk in the lighthouse keeper's office are old candlesticks, a feather pen, old books and paperwork.

In addition to his lighthouse responsibilities, the lighthouse keeper was required to perform flagman duties to communicate, by flag message, pertinent information such as the arrival of merchant ships carrying supplies to the island. Flag messaging worked in the following manner:

  1. Each merchant was identified through a unique flag and, when the ship was seen by the flagman at Cape Spear, he would hoist the corresponding flag on his flagpole.

  2. The flag was seen by the flagman atop Cabot Tower, Signal Hill, across the coast.

  3. The Signal Hill flagman would then raise the same company flag on his flagpole.

  4. Community vendors would see the raised flag and would then travel to the port to trade with the merchants to obtain wares for their stores.

Merchant map identifying merchant names by corresponding company symbols.
Merchant map used by the lighthouse keeper to identify merchant ships at sea.

Atop an old table in the lighthouse keeper's home at Cape Spear, NL, are a basket & old tools. The workshop also contained rope and implements to allow for quick home repair.
The workshop at Cape Spear lighthouse keeper's residence contained materials for home repair.

The lighthouse officially closed in 1955 at which time the light from the original lighthouse was moved to the new light tower. The last serving lighthouse keeper left his post in 1997 and the current light tower is not manned.

Sandra Murray, owner of Murray House Vacation Home and writer of Newfoundland Travel Blog standing on a bridge overlooking a forest clearing and waterfall.
Sandra Murray, owner of Murray House Vacation Home and writer of Newfoundland Travel Blog

Please continue to follow my blog as I showcase more amazing tourist attractions in eastern Newfoundland.

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