Keeper Bio: Ripley, James Temple


Date of Service: 1900-1930

1873:  Born on March 8 in Mathews County, VA, to parents John & Elizabeth Davis Ripley.

1900:  Serves as Assistant Keeper at Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse (VA). His annual salary – $435.  Oliver R. Hudgins of Mathews serves as Keeper.

1901-1905:  Serves as First Assistant Keeper at Pages Rock Lighthouse (VA). His annual salary – $420.

1905-1907:  Serves as First Assistant Keeper at Smith Point Lighthouse (VA). His annual salary – $550.

1907-1908:  Serves as Keeper at Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse (VA). His annual salary – $576.

1908-1930: Serves as Keeper at Nansemond River Lighthouse (VA). His beginning annual salary is $576, and his ending salary is $1,620.

1916: Is awarded the Inspector’s Red and Gold Efficiency Star for service at Nansemond River Lighthouse for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1916. This annual award was presented by the local district lighthouse inspector. Efficiency stars could be worn on the keeper’s uniform for about one year and then returned to the Bureau of Lighthouses via mail. A system of efficiency stars (and pennants) was established by the Bureau of Lighthouses to promote efficiency and friendly rivalry among lighthouse keepers.

1923: Is awarded the Commissioner’s Blue and Gold Efficiency Star for service at Nansemond River Lighthouse for the calendar year 1922. This award was presented to keepers who received the Inspector’s Efficiency Star for three consecutive years.  Criteria for awarding efficiency stars included the station’s condition at the time of inspection,  handling of correspondence, amount of work required to maintain the station and the handling of assistant keepers (among other considerations).

1925:  Is awarded the Commissioner’s Blue and Gold Efficiency Star for service at Nansemond River Lighthouse for the calendar year 1924

1930: Retires from the United States Lighthouse Service with about 30 years of service.

1945: Passes away on January 31 at age 71 and is buried at Saint Paul United Methodist Church Cemetery, Susan, VA. He is survived by one sister, Rushie Virginia Ripley Hudgins, and one brother, Raymond Sommers Ripley.  Keeper Ripley was a member of the Oriental Lodge, A.F. and A.M., of Nansemond County. He was remembered for being very creative and a lover of science.

Keeper James Temple Ripley Anecdotes:

Keeper Ripley served at five light stations during his long career with the US Lighthouse Service.  The 1904 caisson lighthouse built at Smith Point, VA is still standing today and serves as an active aid to navigation.  The four screwpile lighthouses that he served are no longer standing. The Nansemond River Lighthouse was dismantled in 1935 and the Pages Rock Lighthouse in 1967.   Located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Old Plantation Flats was demolished in 1962.  However, a replica completed in 2004 stands at the Bay Creek Resort near Cape Charles, VA.  In 1921, the Cherrystone Bar Lighthouse was moved from Virginia to Maryland and served as the second Choptank River Lighthouse until it was demolished in 1964.  A replica of this lighthouse was dedicated in 2012, stands on the waterfront in Cambridge, MD. 

Among the many duties tasked to lighthouse keepers was the job of alerting mariners during foggy conditions through the use of a bell or other mechanisms.  A few years prior to Keeper Ripley’s arrival at Smith Point Lighthouse, a new Daboll trumpet fog horn was installed to be sounded in times of poor visibility.  The station’s fog bell was retained as a backup device that could be rung while the compressor was building up pressure.  In December of 1906, a few months prior to his arrival at Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse, a blower siren fog signal sounding six-second blasts separated by two-second silent intervals was installed.  And while Keeper Ripley served at the Nansemond River Lighthouse, a Stevens striking mechanism sounding a strike in 7-second intervals was utilized if a fog bell was needed.  Being a lover of science, no doubt Keeper Ripley found these various fog signal devices to be of great interest.

Sources –; www.; Chesapeake Chapter Database;Screwpiles: The Forgotten Lighthouses, Larry Saint, Karla Smith, John H. Sheally II, Phyllis Speidell, The Donning Company Publishers, 2018; Paul Granville Hudgins; Mary Godsey


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