history of the Block Island Weather Bureau Station was contributed
by Mr. Gary W. Eddey, grandson of George Washington Eddey, a
Weather Bureau Observer who had the longest tenure of all Block
Island weather observers . This station history was constructed
from records in the National Archives, historical records on
Block Island, family records, and reference to Gustavus A. Weber's
The Weather Bureau Its History, Activities
and Organization , Appleton and Company, New York,
It was all too common for fisherman to lose their lives to the
sea due to unexpected severe weather and fog in the vicinity
of Block Island from the time of its settlement until the early
part of the Twentieth Century. George W. Eddey's wife's great-grandfather,
Samuel Dodge, lost his life in this manner. In the 1800's, Block
Island was a community in need of a local weather forecasting
service for its fishermen. It is located 15 miles from the mainland
and is prone to fog, wind, squalls, and storms. The Signal Service
of the War Department opened a station on Block Island in 1880
under Observer Sgt William Davis when the first telegraph cable
was laid between Pt. Judith and Block Island.
the late Nineteenth Century, Block Island had become a destination
for vacationers from New England and New York who expected safe
transport via sailing and steam vessels to the island. In fact,
several large hotels advertised that Block Island had a weather
station where visitors could also telegraph messages home to
family. On Block Island the Weather Station was an integral
part of the business and local community and remained so until
the early 1930's. The local public service function of the weather
bureau offices have, unfortunately, not been well chronicled
or appreciated. The weather station on Block Island was an excellent
example of the importance of these stations to the local community.
Davis left an important legacy to the Block Island community
and was notable for a number of reasons:
he presided over the establishment of the weather service on
the island in September 1880;
he returned to the island as an observer from 1888 until 1898,
serving one of the longest tenures of any observer on the island;
and, he presided over the Block Island weather station during
the hostilities of the Spanish American War, and, in fact, was
ordered to remain on the island by the weather service during
When Davis was eventually reassigned to the Cleveland Weather
Bureau office in 1898, the business and local community published
in the Newport Herald (May 17, 1898) a signed declaration regretting
his transfer and expressing thanks for his contributions to
the Block Island Community. Davis was clearly an integral member
of the Block Island community -- as were many of the later observers.
Davis opened the weather station on Block Island for the Signal
Service it was located on Main Street in the Old Harbor area.
The location of the office was in a room in a local (J. L. Dodge)
store. In 1887, a small building was erected nearby to house
the functions and equipment of the weather service. Until near
the end of the Nineteenth Century, the station also functioned
as the Block Island telegraph office and was frequented by local
islanders as well as vacationers and hence, was quite busy.
1887 weather bureau building was built on land owned by L. Littlefield
and built by him in partnership with C.W. Wallen; D.B. Dodge;
J.C. Champlain, M.D.; U.B. Dodge; A.J. Rowe; and J.T. Dodge.
The building was sited next to the National Hotel and was completed
in November 1887. It was rented to the Signal Service for $60.00
per year paid quarterly as noted in records of the War Department.
Unfortunately, a January 1888 inspector's report uncovered in
the National Archives did not give the new building a great
review mentioning such things as "walls unframed" and "uneven"
and "floors bad". This building burned on July 17, 1902 but
all instruments were saved according to a January, 1934, article
in the "Providence Journal".
1902 the Weather Bureau built a new weather station on Beach
Avenue that was occupied on January 1, 1903 by the Weather Observer
and his family. The lot was high and gradually roll-graded down
in the back to meet Trims Pond. It was built across the street
from the then new Hygeia Hotel and next to the home of the owners
of the Hygeia, both of which overlooked the New Harbor. This
Georgian style, two-story, flat-roofed building was similar
to many other weather stations built by the Weather Bureau throughout
the United States in the early part of the century and remains
a landmark to the present day. The buildings served to house
all internal equipment and served as the home of the Head Weather
Observer at each local station. Currently the Weather House,
as it was known to those who lived in it, is a bed and breakfast.
The Hygeia Hotel burned to the ground many years ago.
1896, Schuyler Ball, of the Ocean View Hotel, requested that
the Weather Bureau share some of the responsibilities of operating
the telegraph services for vacationers with the government.
It is doubtful whether this request was honored as will be seen
below. It is well known that the builder of the Ocean View Hotel,
Nicholas Ball, was instrumental in having the government fund
the laying of the first cable to the island in 1880 - after
lobbying for it for over 5 years. He was also on board the steamer
that laid the cable. The second cable, with telephonic capabilities,
was laid in Nov 1886. The Weather Bureau owned and operated
these cables between the Rhode Island mainland and Block Island.
the integrity of the cable was a daily assignment for the assistant
weather observer on Block Island. In 1902 it became possible
by means of wireless telegraphy to send forecasts of the weather
to ships at sea. It is not clear when or if the Block Island
station ever had this capacity; however, by the end of 1904
these responsibilities were handed over to the Navy department
because of the potential military usefulness of wireless communications.
to the weather. Part of the functions of the local bureau was
to record data to be used by the central and regional forecasting
offices of the Weather Bureau. In turn, local forecasts were
then made public and this was often done via signal flags. According
to Weber, the cold-wave flag and many other weather signal devices
were introduced in 1888 by the Signal Corps "all of which were
eventually reduced to a simple system of flag signals, now called
`weather flags'". The August 30, 1905, edition of the Mid-Ocean
explained and described five of the flags used for this purpose:
A square white flag, = clear or fair weather.
A square blue flag, = rain or snow.
A square flag with the upper half white and the lower half blue
= local rain or snow.
A black triangular flag indicates the temperature. When placed
above the number 1, 2, or 3, it indicates warmer; when below,
colder; when not displayed the temperature is expected to remain
A square, white flag with a black square in center, denotes
a cold wave. During the late spring or early fall, it is also
used to indicate anticipated frosts."
different government inspectors in 1890, 1891, and 1895 pointed
out in their reports that the Block Island Station provided
a needed public service as follows:
1890 report - "The wind signals (are) displayed and closely
watched and appreciated" & "telegraphy"
1891 report - "The Block Island Weather Station's "principle
service is displaying signals"
1895 report - "The "storm signals displayed and (are) of use
to passing vessels".
note was that the last inspector suggested that the office was
spending too much time telegraphing local messages and urged
the discontinuation of the service. By 1896, the task of some
of the non-governmental telegraphy appears to have been turned
over to the private sector, perhaps the Ocean View Hotel (see
above). However, it was not until 1900 when two competing telegraph
services, Western Union and Postal Telegraph-Cable Company,
were given the rights to use the government cable between Block
Island and the mainland that the public telegraphy function
was entirely eliminated from the local Weather Station.
quick reading of the weather observations in the old logs of
the weather bureau from the late 1800's finds them filled with
entries such as auroras, fog, pressure - rising or falling,
frosts, hailstorms, lunar halos, meteors, northern lights, rain,
gales, ice, solar and lunar halos, storms, thunderstorms, thunderstorms
with lightning, and lightning alone. The raising and lowering
of wind signal warnings was also recorded, although not consistently.
In addition to the above entries, checks on the cable, leaves
of absence, sickness, and notations about the batteries being
cleaned also appear in the daily weather logs.
a shipwreck occurred on the island, it was often chronicled.
For example, on January 12, 1890, the daily log from Block Island
noted the "wreck of the Pocahantas, 4 masted Schooner, coal
from Balt to Portland. Lying hard on rocks and in a very dangerous
place." Another entry of this sort was made by George W. Eddey
on December 5, 1893. He noted in the station log that the Schooner
Mowry was wrecked with an estimated loss of $3500 in cargo with
the same amount of damage occurring to the ship. A description
of the wreck or its location was absent from his handwritten
entry on Sunday, May 6, 1894, by assistant observer George W.
Eddey recorded more information about a wreck as follows:
continues, warmer SW winds and heavy rain during the morning.
Tern Schooner Bradford de French of Taunton, Mass. --Norfolk
to Boston -- loaded with soft coal, stranded 9 o'clock on west
side of Island during a dense fog; crew saved by the Life Saving
service. Vessel lies easily on the beach and will probably be
pulled off without damage."
there usually was not much information about these wrecks, the
handwritten daily weather logs of the 1800's generally gave
more information than the later, typed logs. One exception to
this is the following typed report by Observer W. Day. In the
November, 1898, report from Block Island, he described the damage
to the island and ships that occurred during a hurricane :
of four fishing schooners and ten smaller craft which were anchored
in the Salt Pond, or New Harbor, only one schooner held her
mooring. The rest dragged ashore and were either totally wrecked
or badly damaged. One man drowned from a small sloop in the
New Harbor. The `Lexington', Capt. Thompson, a large three masted
schooner, went ashore near Grove Point, at the north end of
the island. She was loaded with piles and bound to New York.
She was driven in so far by the wind and sea that her crew of
six men jumped ashore and were saved. The oldest settlers declare
it to be the worst storm within their recollections. It certainly
broke record for velocity since the station was established
in 1880, and this was accomplished beyond doubt before the true
maximum velocity occurred."
used to make the observations included rain gauges, anemometers,
anemoscopes, thermometers, and barometers. These were housed
in outside equipment shelters designed for the purpose or in
1913 document from the national archives of the Weather Service
contained a drawing signed, and presumably drawn by, George
Washington Eddey, that outlined structures on the grounds of
the Weather House on Beach Avenue. The locations of the following
structures were clearly marked on the property.
Instrument shelter which was 11 feet above ground at an elevation
of 27 feet
Garage at back of property near Trims Pond (built by George
W. Eddey and his son Wallace).
picket fence on West and front sides, a stone wall was on the
east side of the property. Trims Pond (tidal) bordered the back
of the lot.
to Weber, daily observations were taken from the instruments
at 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM, 75th meridian time. The observer and
his assistant regularly recorded the weather data which were
telegraphed to the regional or central offices of the Weather
Bureau. Handwritten and typed records document the recording
of these observations. An article in the September 21, 1983,
Journal Bulletin stated that after the Hurricane of 1938 "the
schedule changed after the fast-moving storm struck the state's
coast in mid-afternoon .... Its (rapid) approach escaped the
attention of the weather observers, according to the Department
of Community Affairs." The storm left everyone stunned and,
henceforth, weather observations were sent four times each day
instead of twice a day. Only an anemometer was destroyed in
the 1938 hurricane according to the article.
would be expected, the flags flown on the steel storm-warning
tower could be seen by sailors and fishermen from both harbors
of the island as well as passing vessels.
W. Eddey was only one of many veteran weather observers who
served on Block Island. Data from the national archives provides
the following (incomplete) list of names and dates of their
William Davis September 1880-1883
J. F. Eiker 1883-1885
Pvt. J. G. Hines 1885-1885
Sgt. E. A. Beals 1885-1887
Sgt. P. J. Cahill 1887-1888
Sgt. W. J. Daily 1888-1888
Sgt. William Davis 1888-1898
George W. Eddey* 1912-1926
William B. Phelan* ? -1953.
indicates observer related to Block Islander.]
Walcott Day, who served as an observer from 1898 to 1907, asked
for a transfer to the island in 1898 from Des Moines, Iowa,
because his mother, an islander, was ill and he wished to be
near her. He wrote two letters to the Chief of the Weather Bureau
outlining the reasons for his request. One of the letters pointed
out that the weather station still served the function as the
island telegraphic office at the time of his transfer in 1898.
weather service officially closed its office on Block Island
in 1953. But the end of this local office being an integral
part of the community undoubtedly occurred years before, perhaps
following the Hurricane of 1938. After 1953, local weather data
were recorded and sent from the Block Island Airport to the
mainland by the airport managers. Mr. William Murray was one
of the managers who operated the equipment for the weather service
for many years following the official closing of the Weather
Bureau in 1953.
and compiled by Gary E. Eddey
30 Edgehill Ave
Morristown, NJ 07960
thanks to Rob Downie, Wynn Eddey, and A. E. Theberge