A keeper and his lighthouse…

08 Dec

Keeper Devaney F. Jennette with Grandchildren

Devaney Farrow Jennette, was born and reared on Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. In 1908, he entered the United States Lighthouse Establishment. In 1932, he took his last breath and fell over into the arms of Capt’n Swan, in the Lantern Room of the Cape Fear Lighthouse. Over eighty years later…Dawn Farrow Taylor, relit the memory of a Great Grandfather, she never knew. Through listening to old family stories and genealogical research, she came to learn about his life as a dear father, a trusted friend, and a destined lighthouse keeper. And he became a man whose memory…she would never again, let fade.

Keeper Jennette's Grandchildren in front of the Cape Fear Lighthouse

In the winter of 2004, I decided to take my Father on a trip back to his childhood. To a time spent playing on the sandy beaches of Bald Head Island, underneath the shadow of the skeletal tower known as the Cape Fear Lighthouse. This island, this place that Pop called home for 13 years, had become as much an inseparable part of our lives as our dearest family members.

Cape Fear Lighthouse

Often, I sit and look at the black and white photographs that were taken during that era. There are images of Aunt Nonie, holding a doll as she sat in a small chair belonging to Keeper Swan’s children. And there is one of Mom (Great Grandmother Ella Gray Jennette),gracing the front porch of the keeper’s quarters,which faced the barren beach. This is the same beach where Pop fished and the family swam. But we were there to also make new memories. We met Keeper Swan’s son, Reece and his nephew, Ron Hood. We sat and chatted over coffee, with Anne Mills and Marilyn Ridgeway, of the Old Baldy Organization. We had made the journey and thought this would be the end of the story. But Devaney F. Jennette, had other plans…

Keeper Jennette holding Granddaughter in front of the Cape Fear Lighthouse

Have you ever thought that you were in a certain place at a certain time, for a reason you just couldn’t explain ? Call it cosmic forces. Call it fate. You can even call it divine providence. I’ll just say it was Pop’s doing, and leave it at that. One morning I found myself at the home of Rhonda Bates and Wes Lassiter, in Frisco, NC. I was helping to remove some of Rhonda’s art prints from under a piece of furniture. It is then that I spotted what appeared to be a large and heavy object, made of brass and very thick glass. Being out of the Jennette family of lighthouse keepers, it didn’t take long for me to realize what I was looking at. It was a bull eyes panel from a lighthouse ! I turned to Rhonda and asked her, “Where did you get this ?” Her response was one I’ll never forget. “Think it came from some place called Bald Head Island. Wes’ Dad bought it”.

At that point, I believed I knew exactly where it came from. Old Baldy Lighthouse was still standing on the island. But in 1958, the Cape Fear Lighthouse was demolished and the Oak Island Light, took it’s place. Before it’s destruction, the demolition company removed the lens and sold them to an antique dealer in Wilmington, NC. It was that antique dealer who sold the panel to Wes’ Dad. To make a long story short…the lens is now back where it belongs, on Bald Head Island. Guess Pop is still tending to his light. According to Keeper swan’s family, after Pop’s death, one could still hear his footsteps climbing those stairs to the top…one by one. Guess a keeper’s work is truly, never done.

All photographs are from the private collection of Dawn F. Taylor.

Cape Fear Lighthouse ~ Bulls Eye Panel

Dawn Taylor holding bulls eye panel from the Cape Fear Lighthouse


9 responses to “A keeper and his lighthouse…

  1. Baylus C. Brooks

    December 8, 2011 at 6:16 am

    A beautifully written piece and great story! After the work I did with the Graveyard museum, studying the 1853 Fresnel Lens, how it came to America from France, sat in New York for a short while before coming to Cape Hatteras, was then removed before the Union forces took the island, bounced around a bit and wound up back in the new 1870 lighthouse until the Coast Guard replaced it in 1936… (breath)… then the NPS got it, loaned it to the Graveyard in 2005, who conserved it and tried to put it back to original by hiring professionals from New England, …. and…. now, it sits in the entrance at the Graveyard… I have a new appreciation for these lens. How was that for a long sentence? lol

  2. lizbfox

    December 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    A wonderful story, and exceptional that it “stayed in the family” so to speak. Well done, Dawn, keep up the great research!

  3. Annie Gray-Clark

    December 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    I love this story. Instead of a rare Fresnel lens being held in a private collection, to have it returned to its’ rightful place back at the Bald Head Island Lighthouse is wonderful. I know it meant so much that Dawn Jennette Taylor, the great granddaughter of Bald Head Keeper, Devaney Jennette was able to return it with her Father to Bald Head Island. Now generations of islanders and visitors can enjoy this lens.

  4. Mike Royal

    December 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    From one Great Grand Child to another…BRAVO! I am a Great Grandson of Captain Charlie Swan. The Keeper of the Cape Fear Lighthouse and who served along side Devaney Jennette. This piece is just awesome and stirs many memories of the stories I was told as I sat on my Grandfather’s knee. Too many coincidences in Dawn’s story, including running into me, to pass them off as mere chance. What could be better than the two family’s of two dear friends, Lightkeepers, getting back together. Thank you Dawn!

  5. Gary L. Clement

    May 9, 2012 at 3:21 am


    Really enjoyed your story and have shared it with family. Keep up the good work. Also, have changed my email if you have been trying to contact me. Still waiting for the Clement geneology information that you have. Thanks and take care!

    • Hatteras Genealogical and Preservation Society

      May 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm

      Hey Cousin Gary. Was wondering why I hadn’t heard back from the last email I sent. I know @ the Clement info. Will do as soon as possible. Things in the world of genealogy and history have been busy. Sometimes I think I need an assistant !


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