Keeper Bio: Kelly, William James

Keeper William James Kelly

Date of Service: 1918 – 1945

1900: Born on January 29 to William S. Kelly and Bertha Wallace Kelly.
1918 – 1920: Begins Lighthouse Service. Serves as Assistant Keeper at Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse (VA) – an off-shore screwpile lighthouse on the Eastern Shore of the Bay, southwest of Cape Charles City, VA. His salary was $780/year.
Wife – Etta Kelly, four sons – Vaughn, Vernon, William, Jr., and Robert. Four daughters – Mrs. John Judy, Mrs. James Rambo, Rebecca, and Dorothy. 21 grandchildren.
1921: Serves as First Assistant Keeper at Janes Island (Maryland), also called James Island Lighthouse. His beginning salary was $1380/year. His ending salary was $1500/year.
1930: Serves as First Assistant Keeper at Hooper Strait Lighthouse (Maryland). His salary was $1620/year.
1939: Promoted to Keeper at Hooper Strait Lighthouse. His salary was $1680/year.
1940 – 1945: Service at Sharkfin Shoal Lighthouse (Maryland). Retires.
1962: Passed away on August 11 at age 62. Buried at Ford Cemetery, Dames Quarter, Maryland.

Keeper William James Kelly Anecdotes:

During his 27 year-long career with the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Keeper Kelly served at three of the nine lighthouses (Hooper Strait, Clay Island, Great Shoals, Sharkfin Shoal, Holland Island Bar, Solomons Lump, Fog Point, Somers Cove, and Janes Island) located in the busy fishing area of Tangier Sound. Only Solomons Lump, a caisson-style lighthouse built in 1895, remains standing today. The other eight were either moved (Hooper Strait), succumbed to erosion (Clay Island, Fog Point), demolished by the Coast Guard (Great Shoals, Somers Cove) dismantled by the CG (Sharkfin Shoal, Holland Island Bar) or fell victim to ice (Janes Island – twice). Today, several are modern beacons on the original screwpile foundation – Janes Island, Holland Island Bar, Great Shoals, Sharkfin Shoal and the inactive Somers Cove.

While serving as First Assistant Keeper at Hooper Strait Lighthouse, Kelly endured the Hurricane of 1933 where coal, wooden planks, and gasoline drums were washed away. The sail on the boat was torn off and washed away.

After the lighthouse was moved to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St.Michael’s in 1966, the flashing pattern of the Fresnel lens in the lantern room spelled “C-B-M-M” in Morse code. A historically accurate steady white light is now shown.

Sources: Robert and Vernon Kelly; Salisbury Times, August 13, 1962; 1940 U.S. Census; Beacons of Hooper Strait by Norman H. Plummer. Lighthouse Friends web site –

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