|Sisters Island, NY|
Description: Three Sisters Islands are a string of three tiny islets, now 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. The Sisters Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1870 on the easternmost of these islets to mark a precarious spot along the channel that passed on the Canadian side of the islands. The Lighthouse Board originally proposed that the lighthouse be built of brick, but “because of the exposed site and of the difficulty of obtaining the best quality of brick at a price to which the appropriation was adequate,” dark gray limestone, obtained from the Kingston quarries, was used instead. A fixed white light of the sixth-order, illuminating an arc of 360°, was first exhibited on September 15, 1870.
With decorative trusses and brackets found at each end of its side-gabled roof, Sisters Island Lighthouse shows elements of stick style architecture. Two inset gable dormers, also adorned with decorative trusses and brackets, interrupt the steeply pitched roof on the southern side of the structure, while the tower rises from the center of the roof on the opposite side. The chamfered corners of the tower and the corbeled stonework just under the decagonal lantern room are indicative of Italianate styling. Heavy limestone lintels and sills adorn the lighthouse's many windows, and a one-story wing extends from the eastern side of the dwelling. A small shed, housing a bathroom and storage area, is the only other structure on the islands.
William Dodge, who served in the Civil War as a captain of the New York volunteers, was the first keeper of the Sisters Island Lighthouse. Prior to his career as lightkeeper, he was also a collector of taxes and census enumerator. In 1893, William Dodge passed away from “dropsy of the heart” at the age of seventy-six. Dodge’s son replaced him as keeper and went on to serve twenty-eight years at the lighthouse. Early in the morning of June 7, 1894, the Canadian passenger and freight steamer Ocean, upbound on the St. Lawrence River, collided with the American barge Kent, the last in a string of five barges being towed downriver by the tug Seymour. Keeper Dodge was jolted awake by the collision, which happened near the lighthouse. The captain of the Ocean claimed the Kent, which was laden with coal, was showing no lights. Both vessels sunk, and two deck hands asleep in the Ocean’s forecastle drowned.
Shortly after the lighthouse was commissioned, the shipping channel was moved from the Canadian side of the island to the American side, where a new channel had been blasted out of the rocky river bottom. Clearing a new channel could be a risky adventure as evidenced by an incident that occurred just a few miles downriver from the lighthouse in 1932. The drill barge J. B. King, the largest in Canada, carried twelve drills that could be used individually or simultaneously. With a crew of forty-two men, the ship operated around the clock in double shifts. On the afternoon of June 26th, the drill boat had just finished drilling and the resulting holes had been filled with charges and linked to the ship with detonation wires, when a lightning bolt struck the vessel, detonating the dynamite onboard as well as the underwater charges.
The following description of the resulting catastrophe was carried in the Toronto Globe. “The craft was split asunder by the bolt, wreckage was hurled into the air a distance of 200 feet, and when the smoke had cleared virtually no trace of the ship was to be seen, and most of the crew had disappeared beneath the waves.” A United States Revenue cutter was just a half-mile away when the accident occurred and raced to the scene to recover the survivors. Thirty men perished in the disaster.
When the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, Sisters Island Lighthouse was replaced with a buoy, and the lighthouse was sold at public auction to the Gavel Family, who have since lovingly restored and cared for the property.
Located on Sister Island in the St. Lawrence River about six miles east of
Alexandria Bay. 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.