Point Wilson Lighthouse

Port Townsend, Washington | C.1879

Photo Credit: Andrew Hull

While lightkeepers are typically honored for keeping ships safe at sea, one keeper at Point Wilson Lighthouse in Washington State earned an unconventional honor for his efforts on the land. In 1917, as the U.S. entered the throes of World War I, lighthouse keepers across the country were called upon with a unique ask, and Point Wilson’s Keeper William Thomas stepped up in a big way.

Anticipating a potential food shortage going into WWI, the Secretary of Commerce put out a call for light keepers to create “Victory Gardens” (sometimes called “war gardens”) as a way to alleviate pressure on the food supply and ultimately assist in keeping morale high on the home front. When the order made it to Keeper William Thomas, the industrious wickie traded his sea legs for a green thumb.

Though not part of his initial job description, Keeper Thomas turned out to be a pretty proficient gardener. In a letter to his inspector, Thomas explained that “Peas, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, garlic, and squash do well, but tomatoes, cabbage, and turnips are a failure … The yield was good, but of course of small quantity, as space was limited.”

Thomas’ harvesting success drew the attention of his leadership, and he was ultimately commended by the Department for his commitment to cultivating such a successful harvest. While photos of his famous yield can be seen in the National Archives, the actual light keeper’s house at Point Wilson has been lovingly restored and is available for rent if you fancy planting some roots of your own.

Written By: Kelly Murray

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