A moment long-awaited by enthusiasts of Rock Island Lighthouse came the morning of Tuesday, June 4th, when a Grand Reopening ceremony took place there, marking the official opening of the fully-renovated lighthouse station.
Renovation work began in 2010 using a combined $1.5 million in federal and state grants, and consisted of a complete refinishing and strengthening of the lighthouse and all buildings on the island, lead remediation, installation of sewer and electrical service from the mainland, and rehabilitation of the grounds throughout the four-acre island including replacement of century-old concrete walkways.
The invitation-only event was organized by officials from New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, which owns the site.
Opening remarks were made by Kevin Kieff, Regional Director Thousand Islands State Parks, who championed the project from its inception, followed by speeches from Rose Harvey, Commissioner of New York State Parks, Harold B. Johnson II, New York State Parks Commission Chairman, and Gary DeYoung, Director of Tourism for the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council. All praised the fine work done to restore the station and looked forward to the anticipated economic and cultural benefits to the local community.
As Director of the Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association, I spoke about the station's place as a work site for former Keepers like Willard Cook and Michael Diepolder, and as a home for the families who lived at the lighthouse with them.
A class of 3rd grade students from LaFargeville Central School also sang "America the Beautiful" for the more than 50 guests and officials in attendance.
Manny and Vicki Jerome, who in 1983 led a community effort to repaint and relight the tower, and who for 30 years since have volunteered their time each season to beautify the lawns, maintain the buildings and raise the American flag in front of the Keeper's house, spoke passionately about the dedication of hundreds of local volunteers who helped care for the station with them over the years. The Jeromes were then recognized for their service by Kevin Kieff who presented them with a framed 1st edition William Christopherson art print of the lighthouse. Kieff also named the Jeromes co-presidents of a new "Friends of Rock Island Lighthouse" group.
The Jeromes and all of the speakers then participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the foot of the lighthouse pier to officially mark the reopening.
Guests were able to climb the lighthouse stairs all the way up to the lantern room to take in a bird's eye view of the station and the surrounding islands, and even the part of the Thousand Islands International Bridge that stretches from Collins Landing to Wellesley
The Keeper's house was given a fresh coat of red paint with bright white trim for the event, and is accessible by wheelchair ramp. Inside, every room has been completely stripped and repainted while leaving intact period architectural details such as wooden fireplace mantles, sculpted moldings and railings, cast-iron vents, window locks and door fixtures.
Even damaged 36-pane windows have been replicated in exacting detail to match those that had survived the years unharmed. Each room on the first floor contains textual and photographic exhibits based on the themes of: growth of the Thousand Islands region, history of Rock Island Lighthouse, the lives of the Keepers who tended the station, nearby shipwrecks, and development of the St. Lawrence River as a shipping thoroughfare. The breezeway and attached kitchen have been converted into an understated, yet well-stocked gift shop offering local history books, plus art prints, mugs and plates depicting Rock Island Lighthouse.
Upstairs, two bedrooms have been repainted and lushly decorated with furniture, mirrors, lamps and flowers to serve as dressing rooms for the weddings that Parks officials anticipate will become a popular use of the island. A third bedroom serves as an office for staff.
According to the new Site Manager, Deb Spry, Rock Island Lighthouse State Park will be open to visitors between the hours of 10am and 5pm on weekends from June 6th until June 22nd, increasing to seven days per week through Labor Day, and then weekends only through Columbus Day.
Admission to the buildings on Rock Island will cost $3 per person. Special arrangements have been made with Clayton Island Tours to provide shuttle service as well as specialty tours to and from the island at a small cost, and private boats are also welcome at the floating dock. Full restrooms for guests are located in the restored Workshop and picnic tables are available for public use.
For complete details on how to visit Rock Island Lighthouse, including how to book weddings and events, visit New York State's Rock Island Lighthouse State Park website at: http://nysparks.com/parks/188/details.aspx.
To learn more about the history of Rock Island Lighthouse and the Keepers who lived there, visit the website of the Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association. Membership is free.
By Mark A. Wentling, June 2013, www.rockislandlighthouse.org
Mark Wentling is a native of Sackets Harbor and attended Carthage schools. He has studied local and family history for nearly 30 years, and manages numerous projects to benefit other researchers, including the Rock Island Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association, the Jefferson County NY Pioneer Portraits Project and Hounsfield History.net. In January 2009 Mark introduced the Rock Island Lighthouse: A Story of Discovery for TI Life and in February 2011 he presented Floyd Carter’s Motor Iceboat.
Editor’s Note: Congratulations Mark. Your wishing to have the Lighthouse renovated as well as all your personal hard work has paid off and we in the Thousand Islands appreciate it.