|Split Rock , NY|
Description: Along the New York shore near the southern end of Lake Champlain, an immense rock, split from the neighboring cliff by about twelve feet, rises thirty feet above the water. This formation, known today as Split Rock, was used as a dividing line between the warring Native American tribes of Mohawks and Algonquins. Under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, France and Britain agreed to honor the traditional boundary of their Algonquin and Mohawk allies, and Split Rock became the northern limit of the British holdings.
At the rock, Lake Champlain narrows to approximately 3/4 of a mile, just two miles south of its deepest point (399 feet). As commerce increased along the lake, the need for a light to mark the spot became apparent.
In March of 1837, Congress appropriated $5,000 for the construction of a lighthouse at "Split Rock Point." Later that year, an ideal, elevated parcel, just south of the rock, was purchased from Congressman Reuben Whallon for $500. The lighthouse was Lake Champlain's second, and was built by Peter Comstock, who was also responsible for the original Cumberland Head lighthouse. Costing $4,016 to build, the lighthouse cast its beam for the first time in 1838. In 1857, a new dwelling was constructed for the keeper, and the tower was fitted with a new lantern and a fourth-order Fresnel lens having a fixed white characteristic.
In 1874, the Lighthouse Board noted "the dwelling at this station is in a state of decay and needs rebuilding. It is of poor construction, and unfit for the climate of this latitude, where the severe and long winters demand houses substantially built. To repair the present dwelling would cost as much as the building is worth. It is, therefore, recommended that an appropriation of $5,000 be made to rebuild it." A plea for a new dwelling was issued again in 1875 and 1876, but it appears the dwelling only received minor repairs until it was finally rebuilt in 1898.
The Split Rock Lighthouse could not prevent all shipwrecks in the area. At 9:30 p.m. on July 16, 1875, the recently refurbished paddlewheel steamer Champlain, left Ticonderoga, bound north up the lake. After a brief stop at Westport, the pilots changed shifts with John Eldredge taking over the wheel from Ell Rockwell. Not long after leaving Westport, the large steamer shuddered violently and came to a dead stop. The vessel had run aground on the rocky shore of Split Rock Mountain.
The passengers were safely offloaded onto the Adirondack at 2 a.m., but the Champlain was a total loss. The valuable engines, furnishings and other parts of the steamer were salvaged, while the rest of the vessel was left on the shore. The ice that formed on the lake that winter pulled the remaining pieces of the vessel to their final resting place just offshore from the site of the grounding.
An investigation into the incident found that Eldredge had been frequenting pharmacists around the lake to purchase morphine, and that at the time of the accident he had either fallen asleep or was in a drug-induced stupor. According to one account, "Eldredge was never convicted for the steamer's destruction in any official court of inquiry, but he was found guilty in the court of public opinion."
To reduce expenses, the Lighthouse Service authorized the construction of a steel skeletal tower to replace the Split Rock Lighthouse. In 1925, the tender Beech transported a partially assembled skeletal tower to the point, but it was accidentally smashed on rocks, while being erected. A replacement skeletal tower, surmounted with an acetylene light, was finally placed in service at Split Rock in 1928. The skeletal tower was the first of many such structures that would soon replace the function of the historic lighthouses on Lake Champlain.
Shortly after the metal towers were erected, the government was feeling the pinch of the Great Depression and decided to dispose of valuable surplus property on Lake Champlain. The Split Rock Lighthouse was thus sold to Mary Hun of Albany in 1931 for $2700. The Greek Revival dwelling and carriage house has been well maintained by the succession of owners. Since 1959, the station has been in the possession of the Heurich family.
The replacement skeletal tower deteriorated over the years, and a plan was set in motion between the Coast Guard and the owner to transfer the light from the steel tower back to the limestone tower. This dream was realized on March 19, 2003, when after seventy years of darkness, a light once again beamed from the Split Rock Lighthouse.
Head Keepers: James Wakefield, jr. (1890 - 1920).
Located on Split Rock Point, roughly four miles southeast of Essex. 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.