Crossover Island Lighthouse
In 1847, Congress appropriated $6,000 to construct three lighthouses to mark the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River. The easternmost of these was Crossover Island. Rock Island was the westernmost, and Sunken Rock was in the middle at the head of the narrows near Alexandria Bay.
The design used for the Crossover Island Lighthouse was likely the same as that used at Rock Island: a one and a half story brick dwelling with a wooden lantern centered atop a pitched roof. Obed Robeson was appointed the first keeper at Crossover Island on May 15, 1848 at an annual salary of $350.
In 1869 a boathouse and ways were added, shutters were placed on the windows of the dwelling, the interior plastering and chimneys were renewed, and the exterior walls, having been constructed of an inferior material known as “soft brick,” were sheathed with boards. These repairs to the original structure were more costly than normal due to the isolated location of the lighthouse and only temporarily improved life for the keeper. In 1872, the tower was reported to be leaking, and the tower and dwelling were described to be in very bad condition and not worth repair. Funds for a new lighthouse were requested, but a decade would pass before Crossover Island received new structures.
In 1882 a new six-room, two-story keeper’s dwelling, a duplicate of those erected at Tibbett’s Point, New York and Marblehead, Ohio, was constructed. The house has three gables, which were formerly decorated with heavy cross-timbers and adorned with finials. A detached iron tower, very similar to the one erected the same year at Sunken Rock, was placed upon a concrete pad and lined with brick to the first landing and with wood above that. A sixth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the new tower, and the fourth-order lens used in the original lighthouse was shipped to another station. The tower was originally brown in color, but on the opening of navigation in 1899 it was painted white.
A cistern in the cellar of the keeper’s dwelling stored rainwater for the station, but as this was not always sufficient for the island’s residents, in 1884, a well was sunk through over twenty-five feet of granite and equipped with a pump.
Starting near the tower, a stone and concrete seawall was built along the southern side of the island. Behind the wall, over 300 cubic yards of earth were brought in to create a fair sized lawn in front of the dwelling.
Daniel Hill became keeper of the Crossover Island Lighthouse in March of 1909 and held the position for over twenty-two years. Keeper Hill and his wife Cora raised a family of seven children on the island. One of these, Ralph E. Hill, has written extensively about his childhood on Crossover Island. Ralph recalls that there was no telephone, radio, TV, gas, electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, or central heating on the island. Today, one can hardly imagine living without even one of these conveniences, even for just a day or two. After spending one full winter on the exposed island, Keeper Hill purchased some property at Oak Point and built a cottage where his family could winter more comfortably. A furnace was finally installed in the lighthouse just four years before it was abandoned.
When school was in session, Keeper Hill would row his brood to the mainland where they were educated in a one-room schoolhouse. During the summer, the Hill children, having none of our modern day distractions, would spend a lot of their time outdoors swimming, fishing, and exploring some of the nearby islands and creeks. June was a special month when over a two-day period eel flies would hatch, mate, lay their eggs, and die. Millions of these flies would collect over the water near the station, and at night, the Hill family would harvest up to 200 hundred eels that would swim to the surface to partake of this annual feast. The eels would be skinned, cleaned, and then smoked the next day in the island’s ash house, which was also used to produce lye for making soap.
After the Hills left Crossover Island at the end of 1931, the lighthouse was active for one more decade before being discontinued on April 10, 1941. The government sold the lighthouse as surplus property in 1960, and in 1969 the Dutchers purchased the property. After years of being in the Dutcher family, the island was sold for $465,000 in 2002 to John Urtis, a pilot for United Airlines who formerly flew in the Navy and Coast Guard.