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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rock Island - A Thousand Islands jewel


Vessels making their way out down the St. Lawrence River out of Lake Ontario were forced to pass through the narrows to the south of Wellesley Island. A number of small, rocky islands area arrayed across this narrow passage, which made the passage difficult in clear weather and virtually impossible at night or during overcast weather conditions. In order to mark the southerly limit of this channel, a lighthouse was established on Rock Island in 1847. This first Rock Island lighthouse exhibited a fixed light shown from a birdcage lantern centered on the apex of a small stone dwelling. While no photographs of the original lighthouse were ever taken, this old illustration matches the official description of the structure and provides a good idea of how it would have appeared.



The original 1847 Rock Island light station 

By 1875, the old Rock Island lighthouse was found to be in decrepit condition, and the Lighthouse Board issued a request to Congress for an appropriation of $14,000 to completely rebuild the station. Congress turned a deaf ear to repeated annual requests for funds, and it would not be until 1882 that this prefabricated iron tower was erected in the water a short distance from the old, decaying dwelling.

Rock Island light station after it was rebuilt in 1882

Finally in 1884, two years after the new tower was erected at Rock Island, sufficient funding was available to allow the much needed rebuilding of the decrepit forty year old dwelling. Using as much of the original foundation and materials as was practical to keep costs as low as possible, a beautiful Queen Anne style dwelling was erected on the island for the stations keeper. This undated photograph of the dwelling from the Coast Guard Historian's office was clearly taken from the gallery of the tower, which stood approximately from its veranda.


The new Rock Island light station dwelling as viewed from the tower gallery

Also in 1884, a small depot was established on the northeast end of Rock Island for the storage and repair of the many buoys used to mark the channel in that section of the river. With the addition of its large large timber dock, storage shed, crane, buoy car and tracks, much of the tiny island was now covered with buildings.


 The Rock Island buoy depot can be seen on the left side of the island

In 1902, the Rock Island boathouse was relocated onto this substantial timber and stone foundation. In order to provide sufficient depth for the keepers launch, the rock had to be blasted with dynamite before the foundation could be built. Also at this time, the concrete walkways were renewed connecting all the station buildings.

 
The boat house built at Rock Island in 1902

Rock Island light station as it appeared in a colorful postcard postmarked in 1912.

As part of our GLLKA lighthouse excursion in the Thousand Islands in September of 2012, a group of forty lighthouse aficionados boarded a large pontoon boat and took an early morning ride out to Rock Island to tour the light station. As you can see from this photo taken as we made our way toward the lighthouse dock, we were graced with a perfect Thousand Islands morning.

Rock Island light station in 2012

All the buildings at the Rock Island light station were undergoing restoration during our visit, as evident by this claw-foot bathtub sitting upside down on the floor of the station kitchen. The interior of the dwelling is beautiful, and has details reminiscent of the "Arts and Crafts" style.

The kitchen of the Rock Island light station as it appeared under restoration in 2012

While visiting the Rock Island light station our group was able to enter the tower, but a problem with some custom fabricated replacement stair components precluded out climbing the stairs themselves.

The GLLKA group lining up to view the interior of the tower

Because of the previously mentioned stair problems in the tower at Rock Island, we had to satisfy ourselves with this view up into the tower from the entrance level.

 
The view up the stairs in the Rock Island light station tower

With its dynamited slip and crib based walls, the boat house at the Rock Island light station is a wonderful example of early twentieth century field engineering and its excellent condition a real tribute to the workmanship of the 1902 construction crew..

 The Rock Island light station boat house in 2012

 I could have spent the whole day in the Rock Island light station boathouse. With its exposed timber frames, the details are incredible, and I would love to have had the opportunity to climb those stairs to the second floor to explore further.

 
 The interior of the Rock Island boat house

 I fell in love with these fifteen light uppers sashes in the windows at the Rock Island dwelling. The white building visible just outside is a square cast iron oil storage building which was erected at the upper end of the path to the tower in 1905. Its exterior restoration was complete, and it looked as good as the day it was erected.

 
The Arts and Crafts style windows in the Rock Island dwelling

With Rock Island being such a tiny and rocky location, we were quite surprised to see this relatively large area of grasses and greenery between the dwelling and the boathouse. What a great place this would be to sit and watch the world pass by.

 
There was a surprisingly large amount of open area at the center of the island


For our last post on the Rock Island light station, here is a photograph taken in the late evening on a prior GLLKA trip to the Thousand Islands area in October of 2010.

 
 Sunset over Rock Island light station

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