The “Big Diamond” – New Hillsboro Light Greeting Card in Antique Map Series

Over one hundred years ago sections of a skeletal iron tower began a 4,000 mile journey beginning at the Russell Wheel & Foundry Company of Detroit, Michigan. The journey would traverse two of the Great Lakes, travel down the Ilinois and Mississippi rivers, cross the Gulf of Mexico, and continue up Florida’s Atlantic coast to a tract of land once awarded by the British Crown to Will Hills, the Earl of Hillsborough. The Earl served as Britain’s Secretary of State for the colonies between 1768 and 1772 and today the Inlet still bears his name. Congress was petitioned for the light from 1885 to 1901, the land was purchased in 1904, and the first keeper climbed its 175 steps to light a kerosene lamp inside the glittering bivalve Fresnel lens for the first time on March 7th, 1907. The establishment of the Lighthouse completed the system of Florida Reef Lights and marked the dangerous reef helping ships southbound from Jupiter to avoid hugging the coast and give the reef wide berth in passage.

The octagonal pyramidal skeletal tower was painted white on the lower half and black on the upper portion in order to distinguish it from Jupiter Light to the north and Cape Florida Light to the south, then both Orange in color. Affectionately known as ‘The Big Diamond’, that original second-order Bivalve Fresnel lens still casts out its beam 28 nautical miles, one of the strongest in the world. The tower located on the north east point of the inlet, has no protective buffer from tidal surge or fierce hurricane winds, yet the station has endured and serves mariners still.

Now,  Janthina Images offers a new lighthouse card in its antique map series featuring Hillsboro Inlet Light as it looked before the 2005 hurricane season. I loved the softening coverage of the tall Casurinas along with the palms and the weather worn appearance of the keeper’s cottages just visible through the foliage. The image was taken from our inflatable, Janthina, on a perfect afternoon with clouds curling like smoke around the lantern room and the Big Diamond sparkling in the sun. I lived under the beam of the Hillsboro Light for many years before I ever started taking pictures of lighthouses or became interested in their histories. Once I’d printed my pictures from this time, I began to suddenly ‘see’ all of the local lighthouse art displayed variously around my area. All the watercolors, oil paintings, photographs had the little tree you see to the right of the light by the jetty rocks. At first that little tree just seemed so unnecessary, something I angled my camera around, then one day it became to me an iconic, necessary part of the scene. Now, to my dismay,  it is gone! This is the way it is with lighthouses though. Cottages and trees may succumb to the elements but the lighthouse is designed to stand and protect mariners against whatever acts God or Nature may bring! So through the years lighthouse paintings or photographs record those changes and make us realize that these steadfast beacons stand against not only wind and storm but also the swirling passage of time.

I chose the map that decorates the back of the card in a deliberate fashion as I was curious to see how far back the inlet was labeled by cartographers as “Hillsboro Inlet.” Bernard Romans is one of my favourite cartographers though his 1774 drawing did not label the inlet per se, however, I did learn that it was  Bernard Romans who named the river which flows into it, the Hillsborough River in 1772 after Lord Hillsborough.   This natural waterway looks like it was later incorporated into the modern Intracoastal Waterway, a collection of natural waterways, dredged natural waterways, and manmade dredged sections.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress Maps and Geography Division, the map I used is a very small portion of the 1796 update of “A General Chart of the West Indies” made by cartographer, Captain Joseph Smith Speer for ‘His Royal Highness George Augustus Frederick, Prince of  Wales.’  I wanted to show the location of Hillsborough Inlet in its Florida context on such an early map. Captain Speer was an officer in the Royal Navy who served 21 years on the Mosquito (Miskito) Coast in what is now Nicaragua. He is best known for his detailed maps of the West Indies based on his first-hand knowledge of the region. In 1766 he published “The West-India Pilot” containing 13 maps, followed by an enlarged edition, in 1771 with 26 maps. In 1774 he published “A General Chart of the West Indies” which was updated 22 years later in 1796. Both the 1774 map and the 1796 map have the Hillsborough River and the Hillsborough Inlet clearly named. (Note: The 1796 map I used shows the naming of L. Mayaco -one of Lake Okeechobee’s early names-after Indian tribes in that region….in 1774 the presence of the lake was indicated but  noted as a ‘rumor.’  Yikes!! Lake Ockeechobee’s story for another post!) As the Earl of Hillsborough was awarded the land between 1768 and 1772, the inlet could not appear named as such before 1768. I do not know if Speer’s 1774 map was the earliest to name the inlet, only the earliest I found so far. Of course the name has since been truncated to Hillsboro Inlet.

Captain Joseph Smith Speer’s 1774 ‘A General Chart of the West Indies’ with 1796 Updates- closeup showing Hillsborough Inlet, Florida

Lighthouse photography has lifted my life and awareness in so many ways. From the sheer dedication needed to propose, build, staff and maintain lighthouses… to lighthouse histories which illuminate the wider historical impact of entire regions, countries and around the globe, we have much to admire and to learn. Not least of all, we are drawn to the beauty of the settings as all are tied to the sea, its changing moods, and the living pulse which somehow holds us captive!!

I hope that you enjoy the card, the story and the continuum of both the image and the map.

Below find certification and titling elements from Speer’s map which I found interesting:

Rococo-style cartouche from ‘A General Chart of the West Indies’ made by cartographer Capt. Joseph Smith Speer dedicating the map

Endorsement by John Pownall, Secretary to the Plantation Office, certifying the chart incorporates the “lastest and most accurate surveys.” 1774 publication

1796 Statement of Additions to the 1774 Map – The close up I used of Florida shows only one change from the 1774 Map-which was in giving Lake Okeechobee the early name of L. Mayaco after the indian tribe in that area then..the 1774 map had noted the lake as rumored, not verified.


Credit for early history goes to Lighthouse Friends where you will find the best history summaries on all the nation’s lighthouses.

Credit for information on Captain Joseph Smith Speer goes to Old World Auctions where a copy of the General Chart of the West Indies 1796 version was sold for $3,000.00

Janthina Images shots of Hillsboro Light images 71-89 in the Lighthouses Gallery showing what the lighthouse looks like presently, interior shots and shots of the beautiful bi-valve Fresnel Lens (though other Hillsboro Images are strewn throughout)

Visit Janthina’s JUST CARDS gallery to purchase the online greeting cards and click: Hillsboro Light for the subject of this post.

~ by Judy on October 21, 2012.

5 Responses to “The “Big Diamond” – New Hillsboro Light Greeting Card in Antique Map Series”

  1. Another beautiful card from the talented Judy Lovell. 😀 I am so glad that you share the stories about how these enigmatic structures came to be. It is easy to look at a lighthouse and think, “how beautiful”. But rarely do we know where the elements came from and the wicked journey involved in getting the various pieces assembled. And I love you find these old maps!!! 😀

    • What a lovely comment!! I guess we do share an attachment for ancient things and the back story…you with your Egypt Series…and me with the cartographers who accomplished so much so accurately without Google Earth!! Must be the Indiana Jones in us that wants to find sources, unravel mysteries and find the continuum of man’s attempt to interpret his world in the form of maps, ancient writings, and artifacts.

  2. This is a wonderful tale, and a wonderful light. It’s amazing to me that it was made in MIchigan, although the iron ore mines in Minnesota suggest a reason. The thought of it traversing the lakes and rivers brings to mind the great processions when drilling platforms made down the Texas coast head out to sea. The biggest, Bullwinkle, was a wonder to watch as it was transported.

    Some Texas lights, particularly Matagorda and Bolivar, were constructed with metal sheets. We did have one skeletal tower, the Velasco Light in Brazoria County, but that’s long gone. I’m not sure if there were any others. Now, most have been replaced with completely functional and completely ahistorical electonic gizmos. They do their work very well, and with not a lick of romance.

    Of course, it’s usually the people on land who tend to think romantic thoughts about places like the Hillsboro Light. Mariners may – but not when they need to be using them! After a bit of time spent thinking, “Are we where I think we are?”, there’s nothing like seeing a familiar light flashing in the darkness.

    • I’ve always agreed with the quote by George Putnam when he was superintendent of lighthouses, “The lighthouse and the lightship appeal to the interests and better instinct of man because they are symbolic of never-ceasing watchfulness, of steadfast endurance in every exposure, of widespread helpfulness. The building and keeping of the lights is a picturesque and humanitarian work of the nation.”

      The widespread helpfulness is the key I think…that sense of comfort and compassion that would show someone out at sea where he is and to guide away from hazards ready to strike his vessel. Every sailor who loves the sea, wants still to find home.

      I suppose it was inevitable that technology would change things. Sextants give way to the GPS, lightships to ligthouses, to electonic beacons or rotating aero beacons. Romance gives way to utility. The coast guard has been rapidly divesting itself of maintaining the lighthouses, many are decommissioned and many are kept functional by historical societies and cities which have purchased and taken on the reponsibility for maintaining the lighthouses. Hillsboro Station is one of the few still being operated by the Coast Guard. Not too long ago in the local paper there was discussion of turning off the light permanently due to disturbance to nesting sea turtles. In my view this would be tragic. The light already has a shield to keep the beam from shining into houses, so during times of the year when the turtles nest, just make an additional shield and slide it out to protect the beach. The magnificent beam would then still shine out to sea to guide ships.

      I am personally grateful for those who actively work to preserve the historic beacons…they are integral to our histories and one must not forget the dedication and life style of the keeper’s, many of whom lived at the far edge of the world sacrificing much to keep the lights lit to save others.

  3. […] is a story on one of the cards: The “Big Diamond” – New Hillsboro Light Greeting Card in Antique Map Series (photo on left […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: