I looked up at the clear blue sky. It was a bright Monday morning at the end of August. We were at beautiful Cape Vincent in upstate New York.
Set against the backdrop of the blue sky and standing roughly 70 feet above the clear emerald green waters where Lake Ontario meets St Lawrence River, the white Tibbetts Point lighthouse stood in majestic silence. It has towered like a guiding light over the centuries and saved many a ship from getting lost on dark foggy nights. Just for the record - in 1913 it sounded the fog horn continuously for 300 hours.
The Tibbetts Point lighthouse built in 1827 is one of the rare lighthouses in America that still uses the Fresnel lens. This is a special type of lens that keeps the light focused like a laser beam so that it can be seen from a long distance. This is an invention that has saved a million ships.
The first lamps of the lighthouse used whale oil, and then they changed to lard oil. After a few decades it was 50 candle power lamps which were later upgraded to 61 candle power. In 1960 came a 500 watt Halogen lamp with 15,000 candle power.
Although the light has changed over the years, the lens has remained the same.
I feel as though the lens is like the “eye” of the lighthouse. It has seen everything from above. It keeps an eye on all the 1864 islands – nicknamed Thousand Islands. With thousands of miles of coastline. And breathtaking views.
The “eye” looks south and “sees” Grenadier Island, the scene of General James Wilkinson’s ill-fated expedition. Was he really a highly paid spy for the Spanish empire?!
The eye looks north and sees Carleton Island. This island came under British control in 1774. They built a fort there named Fort Haldimand. This fort played a critical role during the Revolutionary War, as a staging area for military actions against the Mohawk Valley.
One of the brave souls the eye saw there was Mary Brant - a member of the Mohawk tribe.
Mary cared deeply for her tribe. Her tribe had to decide their loyalty in favor of one of the military forces – British, French, American or Canadian. She convinced them to side with the British. The tribe had to leave the US due to their loyalty to the British. This is the time when they took refuge on Carleton Island, which was under the British. Later when the British were defeated, and the US took possession of the island, Mary helped her tribe get resettled in Canada. A Canadian postage stamp issued in 1986 commemorated the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mary Brant.
The eye looks a bit to the east and sees Heart Island. Yes it is shaped like a heart. This is the site of the Boldt Castle. It is named after George Boldt who came as a young immigrant from Germany at the age of 13 in the year 1864. He started by washing dishes at a hotel in Philadelphia, and rose to become the proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, the biggest hotel in the world at that time. He employed 300 workers to build a lavish castle for his wife Louise to present as a special gift to her on Valentine’s day, which was also her birthday.
But just over a month before Valentine’s day – tragedy struck. Louise died before the castle could be completed. She was only 42.
Boldt was heartbroken. He stopped all work at the castle. 300 workers dropped their tools and left the island. Boldt never set foot there again. Boldt died in 1916. His son sold off the castle in 1920. It became the ruins and a place for vandalism for several decades.
Just before World War I, an effort was made to purchase Boldt Castle for use as a summer White House for Woodrow Wilson. But the funding didn’t happen in time.
In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and started work to resurrect the castle to its original grand vision. It is still work-in-process.
On some special Valentine ’s Day mornings, the lighthouse eye sees a certain couple dressed in 20th century attire walk the grounds of the Boldt Castle and slowly disappear into the mist.
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