Keepers of the Southeast Light

Descendant details family history at lighthouse
Fri, 07/01/2016 - 12:45pm

“My paternal grandfather, Charles Baldwin Westcott, was born in the Southeast Lighthouse in 1900, or 1901,” said Suzanne Westcott-England.
Suzanne Westcott-England’s life seems to be inextricably linked to Block Island and its landmark Southeast Lighthouse. Not only was her grandfather born in the lighthouse, her father, Jack Baldwin Westcott, lived on the property, and her great-grandfather, Charles Elmer Westcott, served as its 2nd Assistant Keeper from 1887 to 1905.
"I'm proud to have such a strong connection to the Southeast Lighthouse," said Suzanne, who now lives in Washington state. "It's not often you can say your grandfather was born in a lighthouse, and not just any lighthouse, but one with a great history, including the big move to save it. When I go there, I imagine what life would have been like — the cold winters and having to keep the light going."
Suzanne said she took a tour of the lighthouse and was told that her family "lived on the left side, if you're standing on the road side," she said. "My husband, Jim, daughter, Lilly, and I toured the left living quarters and I was surprised at the size of the space. Quite a nice living area and you can't beat the view."  
The Southeast Lighthouse, a 2,000-ton, two-and-a-half story brick structure, initially constructed in 1874, and first lit in 1875, is located on the Mohegan Bluffs at the southeast corner of Block Island. In 1993, in order to prevent the lighthouse from collapsing over the cliff, the structure was moved 300-feet back from the edge of the bluffs. The building was designated as a United States National Historic Landmark in 1997.  
"My personal connection to Block Island is my family history there. I grew up by Sand Hill Cove, now Roger Wheeler beach, and I could always hear the fog horn at the Point Judith lighthouse — the closest thing I had to being on Block Island I suppose," said Suzanne. “As a teenager, I would take the ferry from Point Judith, and have picnics in the cemetery. I loved reading the gravestones. My paternal great-great-grandfather, Noah Ball Westcott, is buried there with many others.”
Suzanne's great-grandfather, Charles Elmer Westcott, was married to Bertha A. Milliken. “I believe that they are both buried on the island,” she said. “My paternal grandfather, Charles Baldwin Westcott, who was born in the Southeast Lighthouse, moved off-island when he was about 19 years old to become a fisherman out of Point Judith. He was one of the founding members of the Point Judith Fisherman's Co-op.”
Suzanne said “another job Charles Baldwin Westcott had was to keep the lanterns lit on the end of the Point Judith breakwater. I don't think the new breakwater was built yet.”
“My father, Jack Baldwin Westcott, and his brothers, were the pranksters of Point Judith. They lived where the current Galilee Beach Club is," she said. "One day he asked his father, Charles Baldwin, if he could bring skunks to Block Island. His father didn't like the idea.”
Suzanne said that the Westcott boys did not listen to their father. “So, the boys set out to send the first skunks to Block Island. A fisherman was headed to the island in the morning, so the boys put two skunks in a barrel by a door to the wheelhouse of the boat. When the door opened, the barrel was knocked over and the skunks were free to roam the boat.”
“The skunks were discovered en-route to Block Island,” noted Suzanne. “They were eventually caught and tossed overboard in a most in-humane manner — think pitchfork. My father's dreams of starting a skunk population on the island were ruined.”
Suzanne’s father, who lived in the lighthouse, told her that "during winter storms on Block Island, geese and ducks would fly into the Southeast Lighthouse and break their necks. The family would gather the birds for eating. I always dreamed about their time living in the lighthouse.”
Suzanne said that she has dozens of letters written over 20-plus years from her father about Block Island, and the Southeast Lighthouse, and has a number of family photos in her possession that were taken on the grounds.
"My husband and I were married at the Hotel Manisses on May 13, 2000, and had our pictures taken at the Southeast Lighthouse because it's such a special place," remarked Suzanne. "We live in Bellingham, Washington — moved there for my husband's work."
Suzanne had hoped that her daughter would fall in love with Block Island like she did. "I take our daughter, Lilly, to Block Island and Rhode Island every summer," she said. "My plan has worked; she loves Block Island now."  
“Block Island is my quiet place,” said Suzanne. “I visit a few times each summer and whenever I can get there other times of the year. I hope to return to Rhode Island again someday so I can be closer to Block Island.”
Suzanne said she “is looking to find out if anyone knows where the Baldwin name came from. It was my father's middle name, Jack Baldwin Westcott (1924-2016). My father was told by his mother, Ruth Bishop Champlin (1901-1996), that it was a family name from Block Island, but he was not sure if it was a summer family or not, although he believed it was.” Informational messages can be sent to Suzanne Westcott England at sbwxx1@yahoo.com.
In response to Suzanne's story, Lisa Nolan, the Executive Director of the Southeast Lighthouse Foundation, said, "We are always interested in learning these stories about the keepers and their families, seeing old photos of the lighthouse and the people who lived there. The Southeast Lighthouse will one day house a museum in the keepers’ quarters — to tell these kinds of stories. We plan to display items used in daily life there and exhibit old photos like these to illustrate life and family memories through the years at Southeast Light."

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