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1000 Islands Lighthouses

Written by on October 17, 2018 in Island Life Magazine

 

The 1000 Islands is home to historic lighthouses that tell the stories of our marine heritage, shipwrecks, pirates and the River we keep.

Rock Island Light. Photo by Kim Lunman.

Some of the lighthouses are open to the public as museums while others were bought from the government and modernized as private cottages. The Saint Lawrence Seaway was built in 1959 and many of the region’s lighthouses were automated or shut down. Yet they remain as a symbol seemingly stopped in time, shining a beacon on our past. Many lighthouses still standing in the 1000 Islands region were built in the early 1800s to commemorate shipping and navigation on the St. Lawrence. They were operated by generations of lighthouse keepers – including a notorious pirate – and were the sites of some of the area’s storied shipwrecks.

Tibbetts Lighthouse near Cape Vincent N.Y.

Tibbetts Lighthouse at Cape Vincent N.Y. Photo by Kim Lunman

This iconic lighthouse in Cape Vincent N.Y., on a rocky outcropping just west of Clayton, marks where the River meets the Lake. The Tibbetts Point Lighthouse was built overlooking the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario across from Canada’s Wolfe Island in 1827. The original lighthouse was replaced in 1854 with the present 69-foot tower. Its last light keeper, Edward Sweet, retired in 1938 when the U.S. Coast Guard took over operations of the light. The Tibbetts Point Lighthouse Society formed in 1988 to preserve and maintain the lighthouse grounds. In 1994, the society built a visitors’ centre and museum. Today, the lighthouse keeper’s cottage is a youth hostel during the summer months. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rock Island Light Lighthouse

This picturesque lighthouse near Clayton is best known for one of its famous lighthouse keepers: An infamous 1000 Islands pirate: Bill Johnston. He was appointed lighthouse keeper in 1852. Johnston had taken part in the 1838 Patriot Wars but his side lost and he had been imprisoned. He later received a presidential pardon and was appointed lightkeeper of Rock Island. The last lightkeeper, Frank Ward, served from 1939 to 1941 when the light was deactivated. Rock Island Light was first constructed in 1848 as one of three lights approved by the United States Congress for aiding navigation in the Thousand Islands region of the Saint Lawrence River. The other lights constructed at the same time were Crossover Island Light and Sunken Rock Light, both located east of Rock Island. Originally commissioned in 1847, Rock Island Light was refitted in 1855, rebuilt in 1882, and moved in 1903. The light was closed in 1955.  

                    Rock Island Light. Photo by Kim Lunman

Rock Island Light was last used as an official aid to navigation in 1958. The island was put up for sale in 1968 before being transferred to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1971. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation assumed control of the property in 1976, at which time it was opened as Rock Island Lighthouse State Park. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places two years later. In June 2013, the island and all of its buildings were  reopened to the public as a park maintained by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.  The island is accessible by private boat and local shuttle services and the grounds are open for touring and picnicking.

Quebec Head Lighthouse on Wolfe Island

Wolfe Island, the largest of the 1000 Islands, lies between Kingston, Ontario and Cape Vincent, New York. The lighthouse on the eastern tip of Wolfe Island  known as Quebec Head was established in 1861. Thomas Kilty and Robert Gillespie were keepers of Wolfe Island Lighthouse in 1862 and 1863 but Robert Gillespie

Quebec Head Lighthouse on Wolfe Island. Photo by Kim Lunman.

was listed as the sole keeper up until 1885 when he was replaced by his son William. During William Gillespie’s tenure as keeper, which spanned over 50 years, a 33-foot standard wooden tower was erected in 1911, replacing its predecessor. Everett Woodman was the lighthouse’s last keeper serving between the 1940’s and 1954. Today the lighthouse is located next to a stunning modern-day summer retreat on the private property, built as a replica of Maryland’s Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse in Chesapeake Bay. The grounds are not open to the public.

Sisters Island Lighthouse

Sisters Islands were a string of three tiny islets, later linked together by concrete breakwalls and walkways that run parallel to and just south of the international boundary line separating the United States and Canada.

Sisters Island Lighthouse. Photo by Kim Lunman.

This limestone lighthouse was built on the American island near Grenadier Island on the St. Lawrence River in 1870. The first lighthouse keeper was William Dodge. He was followed by his son, William Jr. They manned the 60-foot light for 51 years, until 1921. Dodge Sr. passed away in 1893 at the age of 76. William Dodge, Jr., 42 at the time, replaced his father as keeper for 28 years at the lighthouse. Ralph Scobie replaced William Dodge, Jr. as keeper in 1921, and spent eight years at Sister Islands until 1929. The lighthouse was replaced by a buoy marking the channel  in 1959 after the Saint Lawrence Seaway opened. The lighthouse fell into disrepair and was later sold to a family from New Jersey as a private cottage. The island continues to be used as a residential summer retreat today.

Crossover Island

Crossover Island N.Y. Photo by Kim Lunman

This American island near Chippewa Bay overlooks the spot in the River where ships sailing down the Seaway to the Great Lakes cross over from the Canadian side of the channel to the American side of the channel. That is how Crossover Island got its name. It was originally built in 1848 and rebuilt in 1882. The light station was put out of commission in 1941 when more modern navigation aides were installed along the River. On Nov. 21,1941, it was the site of a sinking of the Daryaw, a 219-foot freighter. The ship struck a shoal near Crossover. The crew evacuated in lifeboats and no lives were lost. Crossover lighthouse was decommissioned a year later. The property was sold in 1969 as a private cottage and today it remains in use as a summer retreat. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation designated Crossover Island Lighthouse Station a landmark in 2007. It was designated a national landmark later that year.

Sunken Rock Island 

Sunken Rock Island

Sunken Rock Island N.Y. Photo by Kim Lunman.

This lighthouse just off the shores of Alexandria Bay N.Y. is dwarfed by its famous neighbour: Boldt Castle on Heart Island next door on a stretch of the St. Lawrence here known as Millionaire’s Row. The original lighthouse was built on this rocky islet once known as Bush Island a half century before George C. Boldt starting building his 120-room dream castle for his bride Louise. It was erected in 1847 to help ships navigate the menacing shoals of the American Narrows.

Island Life Magazine 2018/Photo by Kim Lunman

 Island Life Cover 2018

It was rebuilt in 1855 with a height of 40 feet and capped with a six-order Fresnel light. James Merrill was the first lighthouse keeper at Sunken Rock in 1848. There would be 14 more lighthouse keepers here until Edward J. Sweet Jr. retired in 1958 a year before the Saint Lawrence Seaway opened and more lighthouses became automated. The lighthouse was the site of several tragedies. The schooner Catharine sank here in 1890 followed by The Islander, a wooden steam side wheel vessel, that sank in 1909. On Nov.20 1974, the Roy A. Jodfrey, a 641-foot ship, struck a shoal and sank. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued all 29 crew members. Sunken Rock Lighthouse was solarized in 1988 and is owned by The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. Sunken Rock Island is featured on the cover of  Island Life Magazine 2018. 

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