Keeper Bio: William Thomas “Billy” Brooks

William Thomas Brooks

Date of Service: 1909 – 1923

1853: Born on September 3 in Mathews County, VA.               

1878: Marries Lucy Jane Marchant on January 31.  The couple has six children ­- Egbert, James, William, Thomas, Golden, and Gladys.     

1900: Works as an oysterman.                    

1909-1911: Serves as Assistant Keeper at Cobb Point Bar Lighthouse, MD beginning November 1.

1911-1912: Serves as Second Assistant Keeper at Thimble Shoal Light Station, VA.  Annual salary – $456.

1912- at least 1913: Serves as First Assistant Keeper at Thimble Shoal Light Station,  beginning February 20.                   

 At least 1915-1923: Serves as First Assistant Keeper at Stingray Point Lighthouse, VA. Starting annual salary – $480.  Ending annual salary- $780.  During severe winter weather at Stingray Point Lighthouse, Keeper Brooks walks to shore on ice.

1923: Retires from U.S. Lighthouse Service.  

1938: Keeper Thomas and wife Lucy celebrate 60 years of marriage at the home they made with daughter Golden, in the Mathews Court House area.                                

1941: Passed away on March 31 at age 87 and is buried at Smither Cemetery, Hudgins, Keeper Brooks is survived by his two daughters – Miss Golden Brooks and Mrs. E.P. Twigg, and by three sons – Capt. Egbert Brooks, James Brooks, and Capt. Thomas Brooks.  He is also survived by wife Lucy who passed away in 1957.  At the time of his passing, Keeper Brooks has seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.  He is remembered as a faithful, lifetime member of his church in Mathews County. 

Keeper William Thomas “Billy” Brooks Anecdote

Keeper Brooks served at three different light stations during his tenure with the US Lighthouse Service.  Cobb Point Bar Lighthouse, a screwpile Lighthouse in MD, is no longer standing.  Stingray Point Lighthouse, a screwpile in Middlesex County, is also no longer standing. But an authentic replica, completed in 2003, can be viewed in Deltaville, VA at the Stingray Point Marina.

The Thimble Shoal Light Station where Keeper Brooks served was considered to be one of the most accident-prone locations in the Chesapeake Bay.  The first screwpile lighthouse there was completed in 1872 and was destroyed by fire in 1880 – of unknown origin.  A new screwpile replacement was struck by a steamer in 1891 and was hit by a wayward coal barge in 1898.  And finally, in 1909, the lighthouse super-structure was destroyed by fire after a four-masted schooner being towed by a tug rammed the lighthouse, resulting in the over-turning of the coal stove. 

When Keeper Brooks was assigned to the Thimble Shoal Light Station from 1911 – at least 1913, there was no lighthouse. Keeper Brooks served on a lightship that was placed at the Thimble Shoal location during the five years that it took to build the current caisson lighthouse. In November of 1911 during his tenure at Thimble Shoal, a tug and barge in tow slammed into the screwpile foundation that had once supported the 1880 lighthouse.  In 1913, a barge in tow crashed into the caisson foundation which was under construction at that time. 

The current Thimble Shoal Lighthouse was lit on December 1, 1914, and three and a half months later was struck by a massive schooner. With close proximity to the very busy shipping channel with strong wave action and currents, the Thimble Shoal Light Station proved to be a challenging assignment for its keepers. 

Sources:  Lighthouse Friends – https://lighthousefriends.com; Chapter data base; Frances Ellis; Chapter Historian, Jennifer Jones; and Daily Press – April 1, 1941. Lighthouses of Maryland and Virginia: History, Mystery, Legends & Lore by Bob Trapani, Jr.

                               

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