Clinton P. Honeywell Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Keeper
by Roy Devere Honeywell
The name Cape Canaveral brings to mind the images of rocket launches and space flight. But prior to the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral was noted primarily by sailors. The Cape was first explored by Pence de Leon in 1513 who noted it as a hazardous projection of ,land jutting into the Atlantic waters. Many years later, young Clinton P. Honeywell (IS-125, JMH book) of Baltimore, MD, while looking at a map of Florida, noticed that same projection of land and said, "I'm going to go there someday." And indeed he kept his promise. In the 1880's when he was in his 20's, he got to Canaveral, Brevard County, Florida, and was hired as a laborer at the Lighthouse.
Clinton P.'s grandfather, Stephen, one of the Westchester, NY, Honeywells, left Westchester and went to Baltimore where his son Charles Burrell was born in 1822. Charles B. Honeywell's third child, Clinton P., was born in 1860, the year the Civil War began. Clinton P. spent his entire adult life till his death in 1946, not far from the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.
After the Civil War, in 1868, the 137' all-metal Cape Canaveral Lighthouse was built to replace the inadequate 60' tower that had been built in 1847. Because of shore erosion, the new Lighthouse was dismantled and moved inland several hundred yards in 1894. The Lighthouse's French-built Fresnel lens projected a whale oil flame into a beam of light visible for 18 miles. That Fresnel lens did its job through the change to kerosene in 1885, to electricity in 1929, and to automation in 1954. Not until 1993 was the Fresnel lens replaced by a 1000-watt searchlight beacon. Today it continues to cast its warning light, but shares its location with the U.S. space program. In fact, Launch Pad #4, used in early rocket experiments, is only 100 yards from the Lighthouse. Dr. Wernher von Brann, the father of our space effort, used the Lighthouse as his observation platform when he watched our early rocket launches. Today, visitors to the Space center can see the Lighthouse when they take the Blue Tour, the historic tour that features the beginnings of U.S. adventures into space. Because of the hazardous fuels stored in the area, no stops are made at the Lighthouse, but a good view is provided as the bus passes. Falling debris from the Atlas rocket explosion that occurred in January 1997 narrowly missed the 129-year-old Lighthouse.
Clinton P.'s work at the Lighthouse was not of the transient nature. He soon proved to have a continuing interest in the workings of the Lighthouse and learned well the complexities of the entire operation. On 7 May 1891, Clinton P. was promoted from laborer to second assistant keeper with an annual salary of$490. On 1 June 1893, he was promoted to first assistant keeper at $540 per year. Finally, at the age of44, on 1 November 1904, he was elevated to keeper, which he held until 23 January 1930, when he retired at age 69. But being keeper was not just his career goal.
"The day a couple of fools rode their bikes on the beach!"
With his annual salary of $760, he considered he could afford to marry and begin a family. So on 6 December 1904, just 5 weeks after becoming keeper, he married Gertrude Wilson who was born in July 1870 in Canaveral, FL. On every December 6'h after that, Clinton P. would ask his wife, "Do you remember what happened on this day?" And she would always answer, "What?" And you can imagine the grin in his voice as he answered, "The day a couple of fools rode their bike on the beach!"
Clinton P.'s bride, Gertrude, was well-acquainted with life at the Lighthouse because she was the daughter of Henry Wilson, a former assistant keeper. And Gertrude's grandfather, Mills Olcott Burnham, served as Keeper from 1853 till his death in 1886. Burnham had five daughters, and he appointed most of their husbands assistant keepers. So the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse literally became a family business and remained that way until keepers were discontinued in 1939 when the Coast Guard took over the administration of the nation's lighthouses.
Clinton P. and Gertrude brought up three children at the Lighthouse: Gertrude, Florence, and Clinton P., Jr. Much of what is known about life at the Lighthouse comes from the memories of his descendants, especially his daughter Florence, Florence's daughter Yvonne, and Clinton P. Jr.'s widow, Elaine, and their son, Jon. On 9 March 1997, Sterling Penn Honeywell (HFA: 124) and his wife Irene and Roy Devere Honeywell(HFA:CIO) and his wife Rev, met with Florence, Yvonne, Elaine, and Jon. The group met at Elaine's home in Cocoa, FL, the same home the keeper retired to in 1930. Sterling, who lives in Melboume, set up the meeting. He had taken interest in the lighthouse and its Honeywell keeper and descendants since reading a feature article on the Lighthouse in the 24 July 1994 issue of Florida Today. That article included an interview with Florence who with other family members had attended the Lighthouse's 100'h Anniversary in the same location. Sterling contacted Florence and Yvonne, got Roy interested (he and Bev winter in Vero Beach), which all led to a delightful afternoon of examining pictures, documents, newspaper articles, asking questions, and relating stories.
The delivery of oil for the Lighthouse was an exciting event.
Florence, now 88, has candid memories of her growing up on the Cape which at that time was remote, isolated, and mosquito-infested. No automobiles were at the Lighthouse while she lived there, only horse and wagon. The family traveled to Titusville about once a month for supplies, a great event in the lives of the Lighthouse children. Mosquitoes were terrible, she recalls, remembering that when she heed the garden, she would "stomp and hoe; stomp and hoe." The delivery of oil for the Lighthouse was an exciting event. Barrels were unloaded from a cargo ship in the shallow surf, then floated ashore, loaded on a wagon and finally stored in the small brick "oil house" at the base of the Lighthouse. A dark rainy night at the Cape was called "bird night at the Lighthouse." Under such conditions birds would fly into the bright lens of the Lighthouse, knock themselves out, and fall dead to the ground. The next day the children would pick up hundreds of dead birds in baskets and carry them away for disposal. Occasionally, a large duck or goose would do itself in and end up on the Honeywell table for a special feast!
No churches were on the Cape, but about once a month Rev. Henry Ward Boyd, a Methodist circuit rider, would stop by and conduct services for the Lighthouse community. Florence remembers that she and her brother and sister were baptized at home at the kitchen sink. They were proud to receive their baptismal certificates. No school buildings were on the Cape either. Teachers were assigned to live at the Lighthouse station, and Florence completed her schooling with "live-in" teachers. Entertainment was at a minimum left up to the imaginations of the children. One game Florence remembers fondly was called "Ball over the Oil house."
As Central Florida began to develop and grow, the Lighthouse became a tourist attraction.
"We have lift-off: The shuttle has cleared the tower. "
But those early visitors could not imagine that on this stretch of sand and swamp would grow America's most ambitious technology, space travel. The sounds of the Cape have changed slowly from the buzz and caw of insect and bird, to horrendous cannon fire aimed at enemy ships, and now to the earth-trembling "We have lift-off. The shuttle has cleared the tower." The Lighthouse has seen and heard it all. And folded into its history is a wonderful chapter about Clinton P. Honeywell and his family.
Incidentally, for lighthouse collectors, a replica of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse has been created. It measures 7 1/2" X 8" and includes a roofless oilhouse and nearby a rocket ready for launch next to an Atlas gantry. Further information is available from the Harbour Lights Collectors Society, @ 1-800-758-1444.
Written sources: Keepers of Florida Lighthouses 1820-1939 3'd
edition by Neil E. Hurley, 1995; History of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse by Frank M.
Childers, 1995; Guicie to Florida Lighthouses by Elinor DeWire, 1987; The Orlantio
Sentinel October 18, 1970; Florida Today July 24, 1994; The Descenriants of Roger and
Ambrose Hunnewell (Honeywell), by James M. Hunnewell, 1972,p. 137.