|Cumberland Head, NY|
Description: In 1814, the British launched a combined land and naval offensive from Canada using Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley as the invasion route. The British army, numbering nearly 11,000, marched south towards Plattsburgh under the command of Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, while the British flotilla was led by Captain Downie on board the Confiance.
On the morning of September 11, 1814, the British naval fleet rounded Cumberland Head planning to crush through the American fleet and join the British army in taking control of Plattsburgh. Thomas Macdonough had strategically positioned the American fleet so that the only gap between his boats and the fort at Plattsburgh was a dangerous sunken reef. Captain Downie was killed at the beginning of the naval battle, which ended in a decisive victory for the ill-trained, ragtag Americans. Upon hearing of the defeat, the shell-shocked British retreated into Canada. This victory was key in helping the United States defend its northern border and reach a peace agreement with Great Britain that soon brought the War of 1812 to an end.
Standing guard over this historic spot, the Cumberland Head Lighthouse was built to guide mariners into the harbor at Plattsburgh.
In 1836, Luther Hager sold 3.62 acres of land to the Federal government for $398.20 to serve as the site for the original Cumberland Head Lighthouse. The tower was constructed in 1838 at a cost of $3,325 by Peter Comstock, who also built the first Split Rock Lighthouse. The lighthouse itself was made of native rubble limestone while its light consisted of eleven lamps backed by reflectors. A fourth-order Fresnel lens with a fixed-white characteristic was placed in the lantern room in 1856.
To make the light more visible to mariners, the tower was disassembled in 1867, and the raw materials were transported to a nearby site, where a new tower was built. Rough-hewn, blue limestone blocks were hauled by oxen from the Fisk quarry on Isle la Motte across the frozen surface of Lake Champlain to be used in the construction of the tower and dwelling. Additional limestone came from the Clark Quarry on the New York side of the lake, and stone from the first tower was used to finish the interior. The original fourth-order Fresnel lens now exhibited a fixed white light at a 75-foot focal plane, visible for fifteen miles. When work was complete, the new light station consisted of a fifty-foot conical tower attached to a two-story Victorian Gothic house. Upstairs were two large and two small bedrooms, while a parlor, a dining-sitting room, and a pantry were located downstairs. The kitchen was housed in a one-story addition connected to the rear of the dwelling. The new light was first exhibited on November 1, 1868.
Soon, the beacon was nearly surrounded by maturing trees, which obscured the light in the direction of Plattsburgh and Point au Roche. The owners of the trees offered to cut the trees at a price of $100 an acre, or to sell the land and remove the trees for $200 per acre. The government quickly calculated that it would be cheaper to purchase the necessary fifteen acres, and then resell the cleared land. An appropriation of $3,000 in 1871, covered the deal.
After the Civil War, the Lighthouse Board gave preference to disabled veterans when filling lighthouse keeper positions. William Taberrah, who had been struck in the hip by a Confederate's bullet on May 31, 1862 during the Battle of Fair Oaks in Virginia, began his service as keeper of Cumberland Head in 1871, moving his wife Emma and two infant children into the newly constructed lighthouse. Six more children would be born to the Tabberrahs at the lighthouse. The local school was only a mile from the lighthouse so the children could walk, ski, or snowshoe to their classes.
Although the bullet lodged in his hip caused William considerable pain, he performed his duties faithfully for over thirty years. In early June of 1903, surgeons operated on William at the Plattsburgh barracks hospital and removed the lead bullet, pieces of his old uniform that were still lodged inside him, and part of the hip bone, which had become diseased. Though the doctors were confident the keeper would entirely recover, the surgery unfortunately led to an infection, which took his life on October 18, 1904. Emma was appointed keeper in her husband's stead on December 19, 1904 and served until 1919 with the assistance of two of her daughters.
A steel skeletal tower with an automated acetylene light was built between the tower and lakeshore in 1934, and the Cumberland Head Lighthouse was discontinued. The lightstation was subsequently abandoned and stripped of its metal, and in 1946 the land was subdivided and offered at auction.
As part of a program for land ownership for World War II Veterans, Joseph and Rose Church moved into the abandoned and vandalized structure in 1948 after a fire destroyed their home. They renovated the keeper’s quarters and maintained the lighthouse for the next fifty years. Mrs. Church sold the property to another private party in 1996. With the help of the current owners, the Coast Guard returned the light to the tower in March of 2003. The latest addition to the lighthouse dwelling as seen in the bottom picture at left was being worked on in 2006.
The town of Plattsburgh incorporated a drawing of the Cumberland Head Lighthouse into its official seal in 1984.
Located on the Cumberland Head Peninsula, east of Plattsburgh. 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, Marilyn Stiborek, Morris Glenn, used by permission.