2nd lighthouse keeper to be honored

CRISFIELD — Lorenzo Dow Evans died 103 years ago and might have slipped into eternity — totally forgotten — had it not been for the special service he provided to Maryland’s maritime community.

He is buried in the Riggin Family Cemetery in Crisfield, and there’s nothing on his tombstone noting that he spent more than two decades as a lighthouse keeper on the Chesapeake Bay.

That is until now.

His service will be honored by the Chesapeake Chapter, U.S. Lighthouse Society, Sunday, Nov. 8 at 1:30 p.m. at the cemetery at which time a special plaque will be placed by his tombstone. (The small graveyard is between First Street and Richardson Avenue, enter by First Street).

Evans was 48 when he was appointed keeper at Solomon’s Lump Lighthouse in 1879, and was paid $560 annually. The lighthouse, built in 1875, was then located about 1,000 feet north of Smith Island. It is believed Evans was an island native.

Like all keepers, Evans was required to maintain a daily log of notable events. On Aug, 31, 1886, he wrote that he felt two shocks from an earthquake, 15 minutes apart.

An earthquake centered north of Richmond, shook the Delmarva area Aug.  23, 2011. The 5.8 magnitude quake was felt as far north as Canada and damaged the Washington Monument and National Cathedral, and even the chimneys of Teackle Mansion in Princess Anne.

On Nov. 30, 2017, a mild earthquake again shook Delmarva. Centered 10 miles northeast of Dover, the 4.1 magnitude quake generated anxiety among Shore residents but no damage.

Unaccustomed to earthquakes, Evans no doubt had concerns for his safety. Exactly what he experienced is now a mystery. There seems to be a void in family history about him, said Donnie Howard of Crisfield, the keeper’s great-great-great-grandson. Howard, who submitted an application to the Lighthouse Society to have Evans honored, said he is unaware of any family stories relating to him.

There are no photographs, letters, journals or family lore, simply nothing is known of the keeper except his service, marriage and children.

“What surprises me is that there were people around when I was growing up who would have known Lorenzo’s children, but I never heard anyone in the family speak of them,” Howard said.

The passing years have obscured details of Evans’ life. He may have been a waterman on Smith Island before becoming a keeper.

“I’m 99% certain he was a waterman,” Howard said. “I did find that one of his two sons is buried on Smith Island, and back then, almost every man and boy worked on the water.”

His wife, Elsie, died in 1886. The two had seven children, Howard said, and the youngest, Mary, was just 12 when her mother died.

Family research
uncovers a mystery

“The census of 1900 shows that there was a 15-year-old female, Ethel Jane, living in the Evans household which is identified as his wife of one year.

“I don’t think she was a wife, but his granddaughter. Her mother had died before 1900. I don’t think people would have tolerated an almost 69-year-old man having a 14-year-old wife. There are sometimes mistakes in census records, and this may very well be an example.”

And that’s where the family history story about Evans seems to end.

Danger of winter on the bay

It is said by some sources that Evans came very close to death within a few years of his wife’s passing. On February 1, (some sources note simply January) 1893 Evans would have felt more than another earthquake shake Solomon’s Lump Lighthouse. Huge chunks and sheets of ice were rapidly moving past the structure when the floes succeeded in tipping the structure.

Suddenly, as the degree of falling increased, water soon filled a section of the lighthouse.

The lighthouse keeper made good his escape.

In Lighting the Bay Tales of Chesapeake Lighthouses, author Pat Vojtech wrote the keeper on duty during that event was not Evans, but his nephew, assistant keeper Gordon Kellen (Kellam).

Vojtech said Kellen was able to escape using the lighthouse dory and was found drifting in his boat at the mouth of the Great Annemessex River “about 1 p.m. the next day.”

Henry Guy, 88, of near Rockawalkin, who grew up and lived on Smith Island for 62 years, said that while he had often heard the tale of the keeper surviving the destruction of the lighthouse by ice, he knows nothing else about Evans, other than it was Evans who is said to have cheated death, not Gordon Kellam.

“There were to Kellam families living at Rhodes Point when I was a boy, but no one named Kellen,” he said.

“I had often heard about the ice knocking over the lighthouse but I always heard it was Lorenzo Evans who escaped. Back when I was a boy men in the community would go to the local stores on the island and talk in the evenings, and some of those old men told those stories, and they knew the people involved. So I’m pretty sure it was Evans on the lighthouse,” Guy said.

“I’ve ended up as the oldest person goin’ from the island now and there’s no one else to ask for more details.”

The Lighthouse Society website noted that “Dow transfers to Holland Island Bar Lighthouse until a new lighthouse is constructed.”

By 1895 the new Solomon’s Lump Lighthouse is completed, and Evans returns to resume his duties from 1895 until 1900 at which time he retired. He was almost 70.

Evans died Dec. 20, 1917, in Crisfield, at age 86. He had been living with his daughter, Ellen Patience Evans Landon since 1910 in Crisfield, Howard discovered.

When Evans retired, Crisfielder Henry Columbus Sterling manned the lighthouse as first assistant keeper for several months before being transferred to other stations on the bay. Four years later Sterling returned to Solomon’s Lump Lighthouse as keeper and maintained the landmark lighthouse for the next 33 years.

As Crisfield is a small, bayside-town, Sterling and Evans almost certainly knew each other with their shared backgrounds.

Remarkably, both men shared a connection to the danger ice held for the lighthouse. Ice floes destroyed Solomon’s Lump Lighthouse in 1893, during Evans’ time of service. The destructive power of ice forced Sterling to abandon the light, during the “Great Freeze” of 1936. Sterling left the structure and walked across the frozen bay to Smith Island.

The Asbury Cemetery grave of H. Columbus “Lum B” Sterling is to be marked during a short program this Saturday, Nov. 7 at 1 p.m. His story was told in the Oct. 21 edition of the Crisfield-Somerset County Times.

More research needed

Howard is hoping someone in the family will surface with a lot more information. He has tried to research family genealogy and was surprised to discover, just a few weeks ago, that there was another Lorenzo Dow Evans in Crisfield.

The second Lorenzo Dow Evans was born, surprisingly, on Smith Island in 1882. He died at 61, in 1943. Howard, who does volunteer maintenance work at the Crisfield Cemetery said he can’t locate a tombstone for the second Evans.

What are the chances of finding two Lorenzo Dow Evans in Crisfield? A coincidence, but then again finding the grave sites of 13 men with the identical name, from the early 1900s forward, is peculiar, too. Across the nation the name appears, and as late as 2009, the name appeared on a tombstone in California.