Since the mid-nineteenth century, giant barges and steam ships have sailed along the Hudson River transporting cargo. And, for over a century, those ships owed their safe passage to one type of structure: the lighthouse.
Our Tarrytown Lighthouse, also known as the Kingsland Point Lighthouse, is one of only eight such structures ever built on the Hudson. In its seventy-eight year history it had twelve stewards. Some of those keepers had experiences particularly colorful, while others appear to have had lives rather quotidian.
A light keeper’s job was sometimes hazardous, often tedious, and always arduous. A keeper had to constantly polish the lens, shine the brass, paint the structure, and keep all five stories clean inside and out. The keeper also had to wind the clockwork mechanism daily and a 1,000-pound fog bell every four hours in foggy weather.
From October 1, 1883 to October 1, 1904, Captain Jacob Ackerman maintained the structure’s beacon. He was the second longest keeper of the Tarrytown lighthouse. A native of Rockland County and a river pilot himself, Ackerman saved 19 people from the Hudson during his 21 years of service.
Ackerman’s successor was Jules Gregoir, who took command on October 1, 1904 and served three years. A civilian like Ackerman, he had been an assistant keeper at the Point Judith Light Station in New Jersey.
Gus Kahlberg was the next and longest serving keeper, retiring on June 30, 1930. From historical records, it seems that his most trying experience during his 23-year career occurred in 1915 when he saved his wife from drowning.
John Tatay was the next keeper, serving from July 1, 1930 to March 27, 1935. His tenure appears uneventful, with the possible exception of a double rainbow he witnessed during sunset on July 15, 1934, noted with amazement in his log.
An A. Minzer settled in on March 28, 1935, and worked until December 31, 1939. Like Tatay’s stay, Minzer’s time at the lighthouse was seemingly uneventful, with the exception of the Great Hurricane of 1938, during which time Minzer kept a copious log of disturbing weather events.
On January 1, 1940, Navy personnel assumed control of the lighthouse. The next three keepers, William Sinibger (1940-1941), Thomas Walker (1941-1942), and Harold Fischer (1942-1943), were the first servicemen to keep the lighthouse’s vigil over the Hudson. Sinibger lived with his wife, and saved 11 lives while on duty. Walker improved the facility by painting the kitchen and cellar stairs. Records tell us virtually nothing about Fischer’s service.
In June 1943, Laureat Leclerc and his family arrived at the lighthouse, and were the first to witness the modernization of the structure. In 1947 electricity was installed. This allowed the light and bell to run automatically and accommodated a washing machine and electric refrigerator. A television was installed in 1952. As notable as Leclerc’s service was for the improvements it saw, it also stands out as the time during which the greatest personal tragedies befell a keeper and his family. On March 8, 1947, Mrs. Leclerc died at the lighthouse from a persistent ailment, and on October 18 of that same year, Andrew, Leclerc’s seven-year old son, drowned in the river while playing with his toy boat. Despite these devastations, Leclerc continued his duties until 1954, when he ventured on to tend a lighthouse in Connecticut.
After Leclerc, the lighthouse had three Coast Guardsmen as keepers, in succession. Edward Brown served from August 1954 to June 1955. Richard Moreland was the last keeper to have a family in the lighthouse, serving from 1955 to 1958. Moreland lived with his wife and their two babies. Edward R. Murrow interviewed the Morelands in June 1956 about their experiences living in a lighthouse for a television show called “Person to Person.” The last keeper of the light station was Fred C. Fleck, serving from 1958 until 1965, when the lighthouse was decommissioned. Fleck witnessed the Tappan Zee Bridge usurp the lighthouse as a navigational aid, as lights were installed at the top of the bridge. He also witnessed the growth of the GM Plant; by 1959, the GM Plant had expanded by landfill to no more than 100 yards from the tower.
These keepers and their experiences are featured throughout the lighthouse in exhibits that are set up there now. However those exhibits are sorely in need of repair. As part of my Girl Scout community service, with the very generous support of the Rotary Club of the Tarrytowns, I have spearheaded a campaign to refurbish these displays, as well as fund future research on the Kingsland Point Lighthouse, one of only five left standing in the Hudson Valley Area, and the only one to be situated offshore. Please help keep our unique history alive by donating today: kindly make checks payable to the Tarrytown Rotary Foundation, referencing “Project Lighthouse.”