Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2015-11-15.
The Rondout Creek Lighthouse was built to mark the entrance to the 108-mile-long Delaware and Hudson Canal. The canal was built to bring anthracite coal from the mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania to the Hudson River, and then to market in New York City.
Philadelphia businessman William Wurts would routinely leave his business aside for weeks at a time to explore the northeastern end of Pennsylvania. During his explorations, he noticed blackish rock outcroppings, which would later be identified as anthracite coal.
After convincing his brothers to come with him on an outing, they began buying and mining large tracts of these coal-fields. Getting the coal out of the ground wasn't an issue, however, they had problems getting the product to market.
As southern areas had already began supplying Philadelphia, the areas that the Wurts brothers were harvesting were better suited to supply New York City, which was going through an energy crisis after restrictions were placed on British Coal following the War of 1812.
Inspired by the recently opened Erie Canal, the Wurts brothers envisioned their own canal running from Pennsylvania to the Hudson River. After years of lobbying, the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was formed.
Construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal was started on July 13, 1825 and took 2,500 men over three years to complete it. When it opened in October of 1828, it ran from Honesdale, Pennsylvania to the Rondout Creek near Kingston, New York.
The first year that the canal was open, 7,000 tons of coal had been shipped to Kingston. Over the years, the usage of the canal grew. In 1832, the Delaware and Hudson Canal had carried 90,000 tons of coal and three million board-feet of lumber to Rondout Creek.
Once the cargo arrived at Rondout Creek, it was unloaded from the canal boats. Schooners and barges were then loaded up and floated down the Hudson River to New York City. To make it easier to find the Delaware and Hudson Canal, on March 3, 1837, Congress appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse at Rondout Creek.
On a shallow mud flat, on the south side of Rondout Creek, near the canal's entrance, a forty-two by fifty-foot rectangular pier standing nearly 10 feet tall was constructed. Atop the pier, a wood-framed keeper's dwelling, topped with a tower, was built.
Inside the lantern, seven lamps and reflectors provided the light. Over the years, the number of lamps and reflectors changed several times, but in 1854, the lighthouse received a more efficient sixth-order Fresnel lens and Argand lamp.
Over the years, due to the decay of the wood, and because of its exposed location, it was susceptible to damage from ice floes each spring. By the early 1850s, the pier was in very poor condition and by 1855, George Dutton, Corps of Engineers, was recommending substantial repairs. His recommendations are listed below:
The only mode of repair deemed suitable in this case, is to enclose the present pier with a substantial timber-work firmly connected, and composed of piles driven solidly in the ground five feet apart, connected by caps and 8 by 10-inch wailing-pieces, and revetted with 3-inch chestnut plank, and to add a triangular ice-breaker to the southern extremity, similar to that proposed for pier at Esopus Meadows, with the same protection of iron-work at the angles; all of which is shown on the plan herewith. The estimate for this is, for the repair of the old pier, $668; and for the ice-breaker extension, $698; total, $1,366.
By 1865, the entire light station at Rondout Creek was found to be in such poor condition that the Lighthouse Board recommended it be replaced. The following year, Congress appropriated $22,000 for the work.
The new lighthouse, known as Rondout I, was finished in 1867. To place it in the river, a circular stone pier was erected, and atop it was a new two-story L-shaped keeper's dwelling. A square stone tower was erected in the nook of the "L," placing the lantern 38 feet above sea level. The lighthouse was similar in design to the Cedar Island Lighthouse on Long Island. The sixth-order Fresnel lens was moved over from the old 1837 lighthouse.
On January 28, 1869, the House of Representatives put forth a resolution requesting information on how to improve Rondout Harbor. To comply with the request, Brevet Major General Newton recommended a system of dikes be erected to direct the currents to ensure that the site is directed away from the channel. He also recommended that the depth be increased.
The harbor was surveyed in 1871 and a plan was submitted on January 25, 1872 to make the channel 100 feet wide and 14 feet deep at low tide through the harbor entrance, a distance of about 3,000 feet. This channel would be protected by two parallel dikes, with a branch dike on the north side of entrance to guide the down current, which would keep the mouth from silting in.
The estimated cost of the plan, which approximated the lengths of the dikes, dredging of 48,000 cubic yards, and contingencies, was $172,500. Work on the project started in 1872 when the first appropriation was made and progressed over the years.
When the work was completed in 1880, the north dike was 1,800 feet long, the branch dike 1,000 feet long, and the south dike was 2,800 feet long. The south dike also included a 330-foot-long spur, which led to the lighthouse. This work also included dredging 59,800 cubic yards of material.
When all work was completed, the entire cost for the project came in at around $91,000. This was much less than what was originally predicted due to several factors - the dikes were not required for the full length originally designed and labor costs were lower during the period of construction.
While the dikes were under construction, the Army Corps of Engineers had lighted the dikes to prevent collisions with passing vessels. As early as 1875, the Lighthouse Board had begun requesting a light for the north dike. In each subsequent Annual Report, the request was repeated.
As the entire project was coming to a close in 1879, three dike lights were requested - two on the north dike and one for the south dike. A sum of $1,000 was requested for the work, which was completed on August 20, 1880.
Vessels running up or down the Hudson River had traditionally run for the Rondout Lighthouse. The addition of the dikes had changed the river's flow, which now left the Rondout Lighthouse dry at low tide. Additionally, construction of the dikes placed the lighthouse more than 1,000 feet inside the north dike and 660 feet inside the south dike; thus diminishing its importance.
Additional riprap was placed around the station in 1897 and 1898. In 1906, additional work was carried out. The Annual Report of the Light-House Board to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor entry is listed below:
444. Rondout, N.Y. - A lens apparatus was set. A brick oilhouse [sic] was built. The crib adjoining the light-house was rebuilt, and 80 tons of filling stone was [sic] deposited therein as a protection to the brick oil house. Various repairs were made.
After years of complaining about the uselessness of the Rondout I Lighthouse, local riverboat captains petitioned for a new lighthouse. As early as February 1908, New York Congressman George W. Fairchild requested $30,000 for a new lighthouse at Rondout Creek. By 1910, that amount was raised to $50,000.
In February 1910, Congressman Fairchild presented his bill requesting a new lighthouse at Rondout before Congress. He called on Captain W. S. Van Keuren to make a statement:
...the channel of the creek has been changed by a government survey and diked, so that as the present light-house stands it is absolutely of no use; nobody pays any attention to it; the only protection we have there to get in and out of that creek is a stake light on the upper side, which is some 1,200 or 1,300 feet from the present light-house, which stands in only about 4 feet of water, and if a boat attempted to be guided by it, it would be sure to go aground....
By May of that year, the request had passed the senate and by March 4, 1911, Congress had appropriated $40,000 for construction of a new lighthouse and fog signal at Rondout Creek. By 1912 the site had been obtained and test borings had been made.
The new lighthouse was located inside the north dike at the intersection of the north dike and the branch dike. The foundation consisted of a reinforced concrete pier within a sheet-steel cofferdam. To provide stability, forty-foot-long wooden piles were driven into the riverbed. A hollow area within the pier provided a cellar for the lighthouse, which contained cisterns and additional storage space.
Rondout II Lighthouse (Courtesty U.S.C.G)
Atop the pier, a two-story keeper's dwelling was constructed of vitrified yellow brick. On the front of the dwelling, a 48-foot rectangular tower was attached. The first floor of the keeper's dwelling contained a kitchen, sitting room, dining room, and pantry. The second floor of the dwelling contained three bedrooms and a bathroom. Stairs to get between the floors were located within the tower.
Inside the lantern, a fourth-order Fresnel displayed a fixed red light and was visible for 9 miles in clear weather. During foggy periods, a 1,000-pound bell operated by clockwork was employed. The station became operational on August 25, 1915. The total cost of the new station, known as Rondout II, was $33,575.81.
In 1916, the iron lantern and deck were removed from the 1867 Rondout I Lighthouse. As they were still of use, they were shipped to Rhode Island, where they were installed on the Bristol Ferry Lighthouse.
After the Rondout I Lighthouse was discontinued, it started generating interested from private parties. One group had plans to turn it into a yacht club. Another person wanted to install an advertising billboard on it.
It was officially listed for sale in 1917, but once people found out that the "land" reverted back to New York once it was sold, and that the purchaser would be required to remove the structure or obtain a grant for the site from the state, there was no interest in the old structure.
The 1867 Rondout I Lighthouse sat vacant for a number of years. It was once again put up for sale on February 14, 1935, again, with the same stipulations. As such, there were no interested parties. Over time, with no maintenance, the old structure became dilapidated and in the 1950s, the roof collapsed.
Fearful that someone could get hurt, the U.S. Coast Guard ordered its demolition and on May 19, 1953, the 1867 Rondout I Lighthouse was leveled. To date, the circular stone pier is all that remains of the light.
The Rondout II Lighthouse, built in 1915 remained in use through the years. When it was automated in 1954, Keeper Herman Lange, left the station. From that point on, the light and fog signal were monitored electronically from nearby Port Ewen.
After automation, very little maintenance was done, leaving the building to elements. The Hudson River Maritime Museum entered into a long-term lease (through 2016) with the United States Coast Guard in 1984.
Through the lease, the museum would be responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the structure, and the Coast Guard would be responsible for the light. Through collaboration with the City of Kingston, between 1984 and 1988, the museum was able to restore both the interior and exterior of the property.
On June 19, 2002, through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the City of Kingston took ownership of the Rondout II Lighthouse. To date, the Hudson River Maritime Museum continues to operate and maintain the lighthouse. During the summer and fall months, the lighthouse is open for tours.
Directions: The lighthouse sits out in the Hudson River near the mouth of Rondout Creek. Distant views are possible from the Kingston waterfront.View more Rondout Creek (Kingston) Lighthouse pictures