A dangerous reef that extends offshore from Salmon Point for three kilometres snagged several vessels including the schooner Jessie, which was driven onto the reef by a change of wind on the night of October 30, 1870. Inhabitants of the area gathered on the beach the following morning hoping to render aid to the crew, but all most could do was helplessly watch as rollers swept across the schooner’s deck while five people clung to the main boom and three others sought refuge in the riggings. Would-be rescuers attempted to launch a boat into the breakers, but it was repeatedly swept back upon the beach. About 10 a.m., the vessel broke apart and sent the crew to a watery grave.
A substantial new lighthouse, with keeper’s dwelling combined, was recently erected at Salmon Point, in the County of Prince Edward, on Lake Ontario, as wrecks have occasionally occurred there, some of which were attended with loss of life. It is a square wooden tower, and the light is a powerful red one on the catoptric principle, and has been seen a distance of upwards of fourteen miles. There are two No.1 circular burner lamps with 20-inch reflectors, and three mammoth burner flat-wick lamps with 18-inch reflectors, and the light was lit for the first time on the 23rd of October, 1871. Mr. Lewis Hudgins was appointed keeper, at a salary of $300 per annum, which includes remuneration for his services in connection with the lifeboat stationed there under his charge. The total cost of construction of this lighthouse, keeper’s dwelling and equipment was $1,913.71.R. Cameron was paid $1,617 under contract for building the lighthouse, while E. Chanteloup received $287.84 for the lighting apparatus.
As Keeper Lewis was provided a lifeboat, Salmon Point is considered by some to be the first lifesaving station on the Great Lakes, though it wasn’t really a formal station with a paid crew. In 1884, there was a debate in the House of Commons over sites for lifesaving stations in which the following testimony of Captain John Heniman was presented: “I have a good deal of experience along the coast of Prince Edward. I don’t think there has been so much loss on Salmon Point since the light was placed there, but I think it one of the best places to locate a life-saving station.”
In 1874, Keeper Hudgins was charged with using abusive and profane language against the government. After a copy of the charge was sent to Hudgins, he sent the following reply:
I beg to state that I did vote against Mr. Walter Ross, at the elections in 1874; but, as to using an violent or profane language concerning the present Government, I deny altogether, and I furnish you with a statement, signed by supporters of Mr. Ross and all my immediate neighbours, and who would have heard me if I had been guilty of any of the charges with which I am accused. Party feeling runs very high in this county, and this is done simply to injure a political opponent. Trusting my explanation will be satisfactory.Despite a signed statement by about twenty supporters of Mr. Ross that described the keeper as a “faithful and efficient servant,” Hudgins was dismissed in 1876 and replaced by Peter Huff, a resident of the point. Darius Smith, the Superintendent of Lights above Montreal, just happened to visit Salmon Point on the day the change in keepers took place and made the following report:
There are three mammoth flat-wick lamps on cast-iron stands, and two circular-burner lamps of the same kind, and five 20-inch reflectors. The glass in the lantern, which is 30 x 36 inches, is white, but the light is rendered red by five panes of ruby glass 21 inches square, suspended in front of the reflectors. The lantern is made of wood and has a wooden floor, and is consequently exposed to take fire. It should be covered with iron or zinc. The tower is 29 feet high, from the ground, while the light is about five feet higher. We delivered the supplies to Mr. Louis Hudgins, the late keeper, and after doing so, Mr. Peter Huff made his appearance with his official appointment, when Mr. Hudgins arranged with him to handover the lighthouse property to him on the day following our visit.
While Keeper Huff was in charge, a new lantern was installed atop the lighthouse in 1877, but his term of service was cut short in March 1879, when Lewis Hudgins was restored to his position as keeper. The Kingston Daily News agreed with this action: “We are pleased to hear that Captain L. Hudgins, who was light house keeper out at Salmon Point, Prince Edward County, and who was dismissed a couple of years ago without cause, has been re-appointed. This is at it ought to be.”
Keeper Hudgins served until 1897, and his total time as keeper spanned twenty-three years, over half the time Salmon Point Lighthouse was staffed. In 1885, a breakwater was built at the station to protect the lighthouse from the rising waters of Lake Ontario that threatened to undermine its foundation.
Amos McDonald replaced Hudgins as keeper in 1897, and his twelve years at Salmon Point was the second-longest term. On the morning of December 11, 1902, the wooden steamer John Hall, with the schooner barge John R. Noyes in tow, left Charlotte, New York bound for Deserento, Ontario with a cargo of roughly a thousand tons of coal. The vessels were owned by the Donovan family. Captain Tim Donovan was in charge of the Hall, assisted by his son Jerome, while George, another son, was in command of the Noyes.
Strong east winds, fog, and snow combined to slow the steamer’s progress, and the two vessels sought shelter off Salmon Point in the lee of Prince Edward County. When the fog lifted, Captain Donovan decided to make a run for the protected waters of the Bay of Quinte, but he never made it. At some point on the 13th, the little steamer became overwhelmed, and George Donovan gave the order to cut his schooner free to give his father and brother a better chance of survival.
Keeper McDonald had been told to keep his light burning for a few extra days to help late-running coal vessels, and he later recalled the struggle to maintain the light during the storm. “I had great difficulty in keeping the lantern free of snow making trips outside on the lantern deck every few moments to wipe the soft clinging mass from the glass. I felt very worried about the boats in the storm…was one of the worst I have ever seen.”
On December 16, Keeper McDonald noticed a vessel on the reef, about a half-mile from shore, and sent word to have the lifesavers from Wellington sent to the scene. There was hope the vessel was the steamer Hall, but its identity was learned a few hours later, when the battered vessel broke up, and its stern, with the identification “John R. Noyes, Oswego,” washed up on shore.
After helplessly drifting for nearly two days after being cut loose from the Hall, the Noyes approached the south shore of Lake Ontario near Lakeside, where it was spotted by a farmer who walked five miles to have the news sent to the lifesaving station in Charlotte. Captain Gray and his crew promptly chartered a special train to take them and their lifeboat to Lakeside, from where they launched their boat and rowed twenty miles to chase down the Noyes on the 15th. After the five helpless crewmembers and their two dogs were rescued from the Noyes, the vessel was abandoned as there was no way the lifesaving crew could tow it to shore. Over the next several hours, the Noyes drifted north before running aground at Salmon Point. Wreckage from the Hall was found a few days later on Main Duck Island, confirming everyone’s fear that the vessel had foundered shortly after parting with the Noyes.
A fourth-order, 360° French lens replaced the array of lamps and reflectors in the lantern room in 1909, and on July 1, 1913, Salmon Point Lighthouse was discontinued. In 1920, Salmon Point Lighthouse and the associated property were sold for $100 to George Cummings, who used the property as a summer cottage. The Ranklin family later purchased the lighthouse, and for many years it was available as a rental property as part of Salmon Point Campground. The campground was formerly open to the public, but a gate now limits access to campers who have a long-term lease on the point.
Keepers: Lewis Hudgins (1871 – 1876), Peter Huff (1876 – 1879), Lewis Hudgins (1879 – 1897), Amos McDonald (1897 – 1909), Anson Shortt (1909 – 1911), James Cavanagh (1911 – 1912), Alex Clark (1912 – 1913).