Sitting Just Adjacent To
Boldt Castle and Heart Island, Lies
Sunken Rock Island & Lighthouse
Sunken Rock Lighthouse marks a submerged rock just off Alexandria Bay, NY. The lighthouse was built by constructing a foundation on top of the sunken rock and converting it into an island.
In 1847, Congress appropriated $6,000 for three beacon lights in the Thousand Islands area of the Saint Lawrence River. One of these was designated to mark Sunken Rock, a dangerous submerged obstacle located near the eastern entrance to the narrows running between Wellesley Island and the mainland. The rock was built up to provide the foundation for a tower and boathouse. The islet is also known as Bush Island.
The 1878 Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board noted that the brick tower was sheathed with wood and shingled, but was by that time, “in bad repair.” The lantern was deficient being of an old design with large sashes and small panes, and the keeper, not being provided a dwelling, was forced to rent a house in Alexandria Bay, a half mile from the light. Given the condition of the tower, the Lighthouse Board petitioned Congress for $5,000 for a new tower.
In 1882, a new iron tower was erected on a concrete base placed over the foundation of the first light. The new tower was lined with bricks up to the first landing, and wood above that. A new boathouse, measuring 21 feet by 12 feet, was built the next year to replace the old one, which was too decayed to repair. For the convenience of the keeper, part of the boathouse was partitioned off and fitted with a bunk to serve as a watchroom.
In 1904, the Secretary of Commerce and Labor sent the following letter to the Secretary of the Treasury:
This letter was included in the Lighthouse Board’s annual report for both 1905 and 1906, but it is not believed that a dwelling was ever built for the keeper of Sunken Rock Lighthouse.
After just three years in the Lighthouse Service, Horace E. Walts was transferred from Oswego in 1912 to become the keeper of Sunken Rock Lighthouse. Walts was the final keeper of the lighthouse before its automation and was also responsible for the operation of the Sisters Island Lighthouse. Keeper Walts’ son Max recalls rowing to the lighthouse with his father to maintain the light. Each morning after extinguishing the light, Walts would cover the Fresnel lens with a white linen shroud to protect the valuable collection of prisms set in brass.
Each lighthouse was inspected every quarter, and if it were found in excellent order, the keeper was given a letter of commendation. To promote efficiency and friendly competition among the lighthouse keepers, the Lighthouse Service established a system of efficiency stars. Instructions to Light Keepers, a booklet given to each keeper, described this program. “Light keepers who have been commended for efficiency at each quarterly inspection for a fiscal year shall be entitled to wear the inspector’s efficiency star for the succeeding fiscal year. Light keepers who have been authorized to wear the inspector’s efficiency star for three successive years shall be entitled to wear in lieu thereof and for the following fiscal year the Commissioner’s efficiency star.”
Keeper Walt was awarded the inspector’s efficiency star for an amazing string of nine consecutive years.
The Sunken Rock Lighthouse is now owned by The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, an agency of the Department of Transportation, and was converted to solar power in 1988.
Lighthouses and modern navigational equipment still cannot prevent all shipwrecks. At approximately 10:40 p.m. on the night of November 22, 1974, the 640-foot Roy A. Jodrey was upbound on the St. Lawrence River having just passed Sunken Rock Lighthouse with a load of 20,500 tons of iron ore pellets. This was the ship’s 45th trip of the season, but was about to become its last. Visibility was around four miles, and as the vessel approached the Pullman Shoal Light, the captain, feeling unsure of the ship’s position, ordered hard left rudder. This corrective action was too late, and the Roy A. Jodrey struck the shoal. The captain immediately awakened all on board and, as the vessel was taking on water, decided to beach it near the Coast Guard station on Wellesley Island.
Safely aground, the crew stood helplessly by as the Roy A. Jodrey slowly filled with water and at 3:02 a.m. lost its toehold on the rocky shore and sank to the river bottom. The ship, with its bow at a depth of 140 feet, is now a popular, though very technical, dive site. Click below to see a video taken on the site.
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