After five decades of darkness, New York State’s Ogdensburg’s Harbor Light shines again as a guiding beacon for passing boats. The 65 foot tower light was relit on October 8, 2011 after the private owner secured certification from the U.S. Coast Guard as a private aid to navigation. The light will assist maritime traffic on the St. Lawrence River from April through November.
Ogdensburg Light sits on an acre and a half of land known as Lighthouse Point, which is at the intersection of the Oswegatchie and St. Lawrence Rivers in Ogdensburg, New York. The land was purchased by the Federal Government in 1834 from the Nathan Ford family, and Congress approved $5000 to build a lighthouse on the point. Ogdensburg Harbor was difficult to enter due to cross currents and a narrow winding channel between shoals.
In 1835 the first lighthouse was completed, which consisted of a dwelling with a lantern room holding ten lamps and reflectors in a circular fashion. A fire practically destroyed that structure a few years later. In July of 1870, $13,000 was appropriated by Congress for renovation and repairs.
The new lighthouse was designed the same as the Stony Point Lighthouse near Henderson, New York, except that the tower was six feet eight inches taller, standing at thirty-nine feet eight inches.
The dwelling and tower were built from square-cut limestone. An addition was constructed around 1900, raising the tower to sixty-five feet. Whale oil lamps were replaced by kerosene in 1875. In 1924 the kerosene lamps were replaced by electric lamps. The U.S. Government stopped using the lighthouse in 1942 and the light became automated.
From 1942 into the 1960s several families lived in the house. Richard Montroy, a veteran, and his wife and daughter rented the house in 1947 for $5.00 a month with the understanding that they would maintain the property. At that time there was no running water, because the water lines that were installed in the 1800s had rusted through. Attempts to drill a well failed. Carol Montroy recalls in her book Lighthouse Keeping My Memoirs that they carried drinking and cooking water from the New York Central Roundhouse. Water for laundry was collected from the Oswegatchie River while bath water and toilet flushing water was taken from the St. Lawrence River. The Oswegatchie River water was softer.
The tower light was turned on and off by a geared time clock. Mr. Montroy occasionally replaced the 100-watt bulb that was magnified by the Fresnel lens. The light could be seen for fifteen miles.
In 1964, the U.S. General Services Administration offered the City of Ogdensburg the property for $900. The city rejected the proposal. Thomas and Laurel Roethel purchased the property in a sealed bid for $2,400, equaling the cost of building the original lighthouse 130 years before. The Roethel family made several upgrades, including drilling a well and installing a septic system, electricity, and telephone service. They purchased tons of fill to protect the stone wall from the pounding waters of the St. Lawrence River. It was used as a summer home, but Thomas dreamed of relighting the tower. In 1987, upon his passing, the lighthouse was passed to his son Blair who lives there year round with his family.
An important landmark to the City of Ogdensburg for over 175 years, the lighthouse, which has been in darkness for the last 50 of those years, was relit by Laurel Roethel, the 84 year old matriarch. She was sure her late husband Thomas would have been delighted to see his dream come to light. The Roethel family plans to continue renovations and possibly, sometime in the future, to open the tower to visitors.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2012 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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