Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2018

Chester and Ruth Reynolds Glunt

Lighthouse Lovers of the Hudson River

By Timothy Harrison

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Aerial view of the Turkey Point Light Station on ...

Although Chester Barr Glunt and his wife Ruth Reynolds Glunt are no longer with us, they left a legacy that should be remembered by all future generations.

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Ruth Reynolds Glunt and her husband, Chester Barr ...
Photo by: Lewis Rubenstein

Chester was a dedicated light attendant on the Hudson River where he maintained the Turkey Point Lighthouse and other aids to navigation on the Hudson River for nearly 28 years and Ruth was a respected photographer, author, preservationist, and environmentalist.

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A Coastguardsmen climbing and servicing the ...
Photo by: Ruth Reynolds Glunt

Chester and Ruth Reynolds Glunt were married in Albany, New York on June 13, 1922. Ruth had two children by a previous marriage: Edward Reynolds, named after her father, and Ruth Reynolds, named after her. The Glunts did not have any children together. In 1928, the Glunts purchased a semi-island that had previously been known on early maps as Wolf Island, and later as Coon’s Island after the three generations of the Coon family who lived there. The semi-island is a “real” island only at high tide. The children called it Rocky Point, but it was mostly known as Glunt’s Island.

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Saugerties Lighthouse in Saugerties, New York ...
Photo by: Ruth Glunt

In 1938, the government built a large deep-water concrete dock at Turkey Point on the Hudson River about four miles from Saugerties, New York, and the beacon there became known as Turkey Point. They also built a large nondescript building to act as a warehouse and office. Buoys were dropped off on the dock there for repairs and winter storage.

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Saugerties Lighthouse on the Hudson River in ...
Photo by: Ruth Glunt

When Chester B. Glunt was assigned as a non-uniformed civilian light attendant for the Turkey Point Light, which was also known as the Turkey Point Beacon, he was also assigned to maintain a large number of other minor lights and aids to navigation on the Hudson River. Under the U.S. Lighthouse Service, this was considered a one-man job. When a light went out, or was not working properly, he had to go out and service it at once.

Rather than sit home and worry about her husband alone on the river, Ruth would often accompany Chester. She would also pack a lunch and a thermos of coffee and always wore foul weather gear to be ready for any conditions. She wrote that she was often able to be of assistance by rowing the skiff away from the rocks or base of the beacon as a large ship passed by when Chester was on a high tower; this saved him from having to climb down and back up again to secure the boat.

Ruth Reynolds Glunt recalled one incident in her book Lights and Legends of the Hudson where she wrote, “One morning with zero temperatures, an order came to relight a tower in mid-channel. Ice prevented using a boat and a drive of several miles by car was needed to reach the area which was between towns and very isolated. I went along and sat in the car quite upset, while my husband walked the ice to the tower over deep water. He carried a long pole, but the icebreaker had gone through the day before, and the ice had many cracks, I tried to figure out my nearest help if he went through. He made it safely, although a bit wet and very cold. Luckily, I had a thermos of coffee and a bottle of brandy along.”

In 1939 after the U.S. Coast Guard took over the duties of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, several enlisted men were assigned to Turkey Point to work under and with Chester Glunt. Women were banned, and Ruth was no longer allowed to accompany her husband. She wrote that the standing orders for enlisted personnel stated that there were to always be two men in the boat for safety. However, if the enlisted men were on liberty or unavailable and if the call was urgent, the civilian keeper was required to go alone to repair the aid to navigation.

Through Ruth and her husband’s friendship with the lighthouse and Coast Guard people along the Hudson River, as well as through her photography and writings, she felt a strong bond to the lighthouses, something that affected her greatly when she saw what happened to the 1869 Saugerties Lighthouse after it was automated. In 1954 when the last keeper was removed, a Coast Guard crew came out to the beautifully maintained lighthouse and acted like vandals when they, following orders, tore out the plumbing, furnace, and all the fixtures. Gallons of water were drained out onto the floors and left to soak through the floorboards, and the lighthouse was left to deteriorate. Most people were shocked by this, including Ruth Reynolds Glunt.

The final straw came when the Coast Guard announced that the Saugerties Lighthouse was going to be demolished. Ruth Reynold Glunt had had enough and she mounted a ferocious campaign to stop the demolition. With the help of a friend, Elsie Barry, in 1978 they got the lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thereby effectively stopping the demolition.

Sadly, she never got to see the fruits of her labor materialize. Born on November 30, 1891, Ruth Reynolds Glunt passed away in 1979. It wasn’t until 1985 that the Saugerties Lighthouse Conservancy was established to save what was left of the lighthouse, a mission they miraculously accomplished with an amazing restoration effort that is a story unto itself.

While Chester was busy with his work, his wife took the spotlight, something that he never minded and always supported. Ruth’s lifetime was filled with work that she did to make her community and state a better place to live. She authored numerous books including The Old Lighthouses of the Hudson River, and Lights and Legends of the Hudson River. Her articles and appeared extensively in such notable publications as The New York State Conservationist, and New York Folklore Quarterly. She was a past president of the Saugerties Library Board, the Saugerties Village Planning Board, the Hudson River Conservation Society, Friends of the Hudson, the Folklore Society, and the Ulster County Historical Society.

After her death, a local newspaper columnist, Jean Wrolsen, wrote, “There was a wealth of influence on the letters which Ruth Reynolds wrote to distinguished people imploring them to use their influence in advancing causes which she believed to be good. Her knowledge and authority served us well. She never ceased working on projects in which she had invested time and effort. She never retired in spirit from any board or committee in which she served, but kept an eye on what was happening ever after. Hawk-like she had circled over her special interests long enough to a good overall view and sharp realization of how diverse matters overlapped. She was wise and many people heeded her.

“She was fierce in the demands that she made upon herself. The sooner she completed one article, the sooner she could start another . . . . Like a river woman of old, she kept an eye on the tides . . . . Despite a series of illnesses in recent years, her dogged determination kept her authoring productive to the end. This rugged, fiercely dedicated, honestly concerned, gifted woman had many reasons to be proud. I suspect though, that she was born naturally to her ways. Her jib was always trimmed.”

After Ruth’s death Chester B. Glunt, who was born on November 14, 1898, continued to live in their home on Glunt Island. He had retired on July 1, 1965 after nearly 28 years as the keeper of the Turkey Point Light Station. Chester B. Glunt passed away on January 23, 1993. Eventually, the Turkey Point Light Station, where he had worked for so many years, was virtually abandoned and left to the elements. In 1967 when the Coast Guard opened a new station in Saugerties near Turkey Point, Mr. Glunt told a newspaper reporter that the new facilities were vastly improved over Turkey Point. “They’ve got all the modern facilities in this one,” he said, “the old station didn’t even have electricity, except that provided by the generator.”

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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