|Horse Island, NY|
Description: During the War of 1812, Sackets Harbor served as headquarters for the U.S. Navy on the Great Lakes and was also home to a multitude of shipwrights, carpenters, and sailors who helped construct and man the fleet. On the morning of May 29th, 1813, Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada, attacked Sackets Harbor hoping to score a convincing victory while the majority of the American forces were attacking Fort George at the other end of Lake Ontario. The British landed on Horse Island, located a mile or so west of the harbor and attached to the mainland at low tide by a causeway. Local volunteer militiamen quickly deserted the island and joined other militiamen and regulars on the mainland to defend the causeway.
For his role in the battle, Samuel McNitt was regarded as a local hero, and everyone felt it just when he was later offered the position of keeper of Horse Island Lighthouse. Jurisdiction over the island was ceded to the Federal Government by the State of New York on April 26, 1831, and later that year, the light was established. The keeper’s dwelling was a one and a half story structure with the light tower protruding from the center of its pitched roof. In 1857, the light at Horse Island was upgraded through the installation of a fifth-order Fresnel in the lighthouse’s lantern room.
This first lighthouse was reportedly destroyed by fire, and in 1870 it was replaced by a one and a half story brick dwelling with an attached square tower at one end. The site selected for the new lighthouse was 300 yards southeast of the earlier tower, as the lake was starting to encroach on the original site. In 1883, Horace G. Holloway, a veteran of the Civil War, was appointed keeper of Horse Island Lighthouse. One day, Keeper Holloway noticed a sailboat just off the island. A strong northwest wind had been blowing for some time, churning up the lake, and Holloway commented to his wife that “the sea was too heavy to carry the amount of sail which they did.” He was soon proven correct, as when he looked out to the lake again the craft had disappeared. Certain that the boat had capsized, Holloway raced to the beach, where he could hear cries of help, and quickly launched the lighthouse boat. Two military men had been aboard the sailboat, and when finally reached, they had been in the water nearly an hour. One man was “partly unconscious” but his companion was able to help himself into the rescue boat. The Holloways cared for the two men at the lighthouse until they were sufficiently recovered. A boat was then dispatched from the mainland to transport the deeply grateful and now a bit more humble men back to their barracks.
George Ward was part of a family of lighthouse keepers. His father, James, was a keeper, and three of George’s sons, Frank, Edwin, and Oswald would serve at various lighthouses on Lake Ontario, including those at Rock Island, Tibbetts Point, and Sodus Point.
Keeper Ward served until 1926 when he was replaced by Schuyler Simmons. After his first wife passed away in 1922, Simmons married Julia Shay from Montana and worked a farm near Henderson, New York before beginning his service as lightkeeper. Simmons passed away in 1932 and was succeeded as keeper by his wife, who hired a local man to help keep the light and adjacent farm. Life on Horse Island seemed idyllic for Julia, who kept a horse, a cow, a young bull that was as “friendly as a housedog,” and a flock of Plymouth Rock chickens that were so tame that they would perch on her shoulders. Her life reportedly came to a tragic end when she was killed by a train.
In 1957 Horse Island Lighthouse was declared excess and sold by the General Services Administration to Carl Martin after an automated light atop a metal skeletal tower replaced the function of the lighthouse. Since its construction in 1870, the lighthouse received an addition in 1914 and had its tower heightened ten feet in 1900. Even with this extension, only the top of the tower can be seen above the trees that have encroached on the lighthouse property. The Martin family still retains the lighthouse as a vacation home.
Located on tiny Horse Island just a hundred yards or so offshore from Sackets Harbor. The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is privately owned. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.