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.
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:
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)