|Rondout Creek, NY|
Description: Rondout became a bustling port following the completion in 1828 of the 108-mile-long Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Canal, the first privately funded canal in the United States. The last several miles of the canal, which linked coal mines in northeastern Pennsylvania to the Hudson River and markets beyond, followed Rondout Creek to reach the Hudson River. Steamboats, sloops, schooners, and barges loaded with passengers and cargo regularly left the port bound for New York City, making the junction of Rondout Creek and the Hudson River a prime candidate for a lighthouse.
The first lighthouse to mark the confluence of Rondout Creek and the Hudson River was established in 1838 on the south side of the creek, warning mariners of the shallow tidal flats surrounding the creek’s mouth. The wooden structure was built atop a ten-foot-tall, forty-two by fifty-foot pier at a cost of $4,600 and consisted of a frame dwelling topped by a tower. Seven lamps with parabolic reflectors originally showed a light in every direction, but by 1850, when Josiah Warner was keeper, the number of lamps had been reduced to four. In 1855, a 300° Fresnel lens and a single Argand lamp replaced the five lamps and fifteen-inch reflectors that were then being used in the lantern room.
In 1869, the government surveyed the harbor at Rondout Creek, which had a depth of seven feet, and recommended that two parallel dikes be extended into the Hudson River in order to create a one-hundred-foot-wide channel with a depth of fourteen feet. Work on the dikes began in 1872 and was completed in 1880 at a cost of $90,000. The north dike measured 2,200 feet in length and had a branch running up the Hudson River for 1,000 feet to protect the work from running ice. The south dike was 2,800 feet long and had a 330-foot spur connecting it to the lighthouse. In 1880, three stake lights were established to mark the new dikes. A light was placed at the extremity of each of the two dikes, and a third light was placed at the bend in the north dike, just a short distance from the mouth of the creek.
Congressman George W. Fairchild introduced a bill in Congress in 1908 asking for funds to construct a new lighthouse at the mouth of Rondout Creek. This bill was prompted by a petition signed by local river boatmen, who desired a fog signal at this important junction and felt that Rondout I was too far inshore to properly mark the dikes.
On March 4, 1911, Congress appropriated $40,000 for establishing a light and fog signal station to more effectively mark the outer ends of the dikes at Rondout Creek. Work on this new two-story yellow brick lighthouse, dubbed Rondout II and located at the end of the north dike, began in March of 1914 under the direction of L.H. Bannon Plumbing & Heating Construction Co. The lighthouse, which is the newest on the Hudson, was placed in operation on August 25, 1915 and cost $33,575.81. The lighthouse’s fixed red light was produced by a fourth-order Fresnel lens that had a focal plane of fifty-two feet, while its fog signal consisted of a 1,000-pound bell struck by a clockwork mechanism.
The foundation of the lighthouse consists of a reinforced concrete pier situated inside a steel sheet cofferdam and resting on wooden piles driven into the river bottom. A cavity in the top of the pier contained a cellar and cisterns for the lighthouse. The first floor of the lighthouse originally consisted of a sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and a large pantry, while three bedrooms and a bathroom were found on the second floor.
The George Murdock family served as keepers at all three lighthouses.
George Murdock came to the first lighthouse in 1856 with his pregnant wife, Catherine, and two small children, George and Emma. A month later, he drowned as he was returning home from picking up supplies from town. With two small children and baby James to care for, Catherine continued servicing the light. Applications were considered for Mr. Murdock’s replacement, but local citizens highly recommended Catherine for the position, and she was officially appointed headkeeper in 1857. She remained as headkeeper for fifty years, until her retirement in 1907, serving at both the first and second lighthouse.
One morning, as she was working in her “waterborne castle” (as the locals called the second lighthouse), she was greeted by a schooner’s bow crashing through a first floor window and gliding halfway through the room. The schooner had been crowded out by a tug, and had no where else to go. Repairs were quickly made.
Catherine recalled that her most nerve-racking night occurred in December 1878, when an unusually heavy snowstorm turned to rain. The Eddyville dam upstream burst and the ensuing flood carried away houses, barns, barges and boats. Catherine could hear the turbulent crashing river screaming through the darkness toward the lighthouse, but she continued to keep the light beaming and held firm in her castle. The next morning, she surveyed the damage and found the lighthouse had sustained little injury.
Her son James, who was born in the original lighthouse, became assistant keeper in 1880, and then headkeeper upon her retirement in 1907. James B. Murdock served as keeper of both Rondout I and Rondout II, and the rescues he performed were often cited in the lighthouse service records. On May 12, 1912, Keeper Murdock rescued seven men from the wreck of the Geisha and cared for them during the night. The following year, he rendered assistance to three fishermen in distress. In 1915, Keeper Murdock assisted an exhausted swimmer, carried out of his course, and helped raise the sunken motorboat Natalie. When a Canadian seaplane had engine trouble in 1921 and was forced to land near the lighthouse, Keeper Murdock assisted its owner, Bishop Baker. The next year, Murdock rescued a man who had slipped off the dike into the icy creek and, after furnishing him dry clothing, rushed him ashore to receive medical treatment. The Murdock lightkeeping dynasty ended with James' retirement in 1923.
The last keeper, Herman Lange, who was quite popular among the locals, locked up the lighthouse when the light was automated in 1954. Warren Spinnenweber of Port Ewen monitored the light from land from 1954 until the 1990s.
In 1984, the Hudson River Maritime Museum entered into a thirty-year lease with the U.S. Coast Guard and took charge of the structure. Through the collaboration of the museum and the City of Kingston, both the interior and exterior were restored between 1984 and 1988. The interior décor is representative of the 1930s.
Under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the City of Kingston received ownership of the Kingston-Rondout Lighthouse on June 19, 2002, in a ceremony that included local and national political leaders and representatives from the National Park Service, America Heritage Rivers, and Hudson River Greenway. Daily operation of the lighthouse will be managed by the Hudson River Maritime Museum, and boat transportation to and tours of the lighthouse will be offered on weekends during the summer months.
Keepers: James McCausland (1838), John McCausland (1838 - 1842), Martin G. Hayes (1842 - 1844), Arthur M. Crange (1845), Johannes D. Hasbrouk (1845 - 1848), Josiah Warner (1849 - 1852), John Kelly (1853 - 1855), George W. Murdock (1856), Catherine Murdock (1857 - 1907), James Murdock (1907 - 1923), Ernest Bloom (1923 - 1935), Robert Howard (1935 - 1945), Albert Passel (1945 - 1946), Herman Lange (1946 - 1954).
Located in the Hudson River near Kingston at the mouth
of Rondout Creek. The lighthouse is owned by the City of Kingston. Dwelling/tower open during tours.
The lighthouse is owned by the City of Kingston. Dwelling/tower open during tours.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.